FTC Surfs Children's Web Sites to Review Privacy Practices

For Release

Federal Trade Commission staff announced today the results of "Kids Privacy Surf Day" designed as a "snapshot" of children's Web sites' privacy practices. FTC staff found that approximately 86 percent of the sites surveyed were collecting personally identifiable information from children -- most without seeking parental permission or allowing parents to control the collection and use of the information. FTC staff surveyed 126 Web sites listed by "Yahooligans!," a popular directory of child-oriented sites.

The Mini-Surf was not intended to be a comprehensive survey, but a quick "snapshot" to see what child-oriented Web sites are doing to inform parents about their information gathering practices. Approximately 86 percent of the sites surveyed were collecting personally identifiable information from children -- names, e-mail addresses, postal addresses and telephone numbers. Fewer than 30 percent of those sites collecting this personal data posted either a privacy policy or a confidentiality statement on their Web site. Four percent of those sites collecting personally identifiable information required parental authorization for the collection of the information.

"Protecting children's privacy online is a high priority," said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection Bernstein. "Any company that engages in deceptive or unfair practices involving children violates the FTC Act. The FTC can bring legal action to halt such violations and seek an order imposing restrictions on future practices to ensure compliance with the FTC Act.

"Industry has proposed self-regulatory guidelines to govern the collection and use of children's information, and we know that industry trade associations are working hard to promote these self regulatory guidelines to their members," Bernstein added. "This survey 'snapshot'  demonstrates that these guidelines need to be more broadly implemented. FTC staff will be conducting a systematic review of Web sites' information collection practices in March 1998 to report to Congress on the extent to which Web sites, including children's Web sites, are posting privacy policies."

The FTC staff last July issued an opinion letter to the Center for Media Education, describing certain information collection practices which could be found to be deceptive or unfair. A copy of the staff opinion letter is available at the FTC Web site at http://www.ftc.gov/os/1997/9707/cenmed.htm   (no period).

FTC staff will send the Web sites surveyed in the Mini-Surf e-mail messages notifying them about the FTC staff opinion letter and the principles it contains. The messages note that according to FTC staff, (1) it is a deceptive practice expressly or impliedly to misrepresent the purpose for which personally identifiable information is being collected from children, and (2) it is likely to be an unfair practice to collect personally identifiable information from children and sell or otherwise disclose that information to third parties without providing parents with adequate notice and an opportunity to control the collection and use of the information. The e-mail also states that FTC staff has not determined that the online information collection practices of the site have violated federal law.

The Kids Privacy Surf Day was conducted October 14, 1997.

 

Consumer education materials and information addressing online privacy issues are available on the Internet at the FTC's World Wide Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-326-3128; TTY for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710.

Contact Information

Media Contact:
Claudia Bourne Farrell
Victoria Streitfeld
Office of Public Affairs
202-326-2181 or 202-326-2180
Staff Contact:
Toby M. Levin
Bureau of Consumer Protection
202-326-3156