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Joy Spencer's picture

Kids today are the online generation, whether they are using mobile phones, laptops, PCs or playing games and connecting on social media. They are also at the epicenter of a powerful digital advertising apparatus that stealthily tracks and targets them so they can be sent interactive ads for junk food, toys, and other products.

Yet, there is a federal law that’s supposed to protect them from such targeted online marketing. That’s called COPPA—the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. COPPA is currently the only law in existence that puts parents in the driver’s seat when it comes to the collection and use of their children’s personal information while they are online.

A big battle is underway between some of the most powerful advertising and marketing companies in the US and child advocates over the fate of COPPA. A broad coalition of consumer, privacy, health and child advocacy groups have asked that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) which oversees COPPA to ensure the law (passed in 1998) also covers the many new and insidious types of online data tracking found commonly whenever we go on the Internet. These updates will take into account the countless new ways that our kids are profiled for junk food and other types of ad targeting through social media networks, mobile phones and even mobile apps.

As I described in a previous blog the current digital marketing system is a completely new beast—unlike anything we have seen before from the advertising industry. This new ecosystem is highly sophisticated, effective and runs on the fuel of personal information. The nature of the internet allows companies to constantly collect—most of the time without your knowledge—massive amounts of information about your child’s activities, preferences and interests while they are online or on their mobile device.

This access to their personal information is what companies use to retarget your children with personalized advertising, including junk food advertising that is real time sensitive and location-based. This poses numerous physical and health safety concerns when companies like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola can send ads and coupons to our kids based on them knowing exactly when they are in close proximity to one of their outlets. In this way companies can speed up the purchase process by encouraging junk food and other product impulse buying with the added advantage of knowing what buttons to push based on what your child has shown preference for in the past.

Hardly seems fair does it? The COPPA rules are currently the only legislative tool that puts power in the hands of parents so that you decide which and when companies can have access to your child’s personal information, and they are trying to stop the FTC from updating the rules to take these recent technological changes into account.

This is why the Center for Digital Democracy along with 16 other consumer, media and youth advocacy organizations filed complaints with the FTC on August 22nd against McDonald's (the Happy Meal), Viacom Inc.(Nickelodeon), Doctor's Associates, Inc. (Subway Kids), Turner Broadcasting System (The Cartoon Network), General Mills (Reese's Puffs cereal and Trix) for violations of COPPA. These companies were circumventing parental authority by enticing children to submit their email addresses and the email addresses of their friends for online viral marketing. Parents were essentially locked out of a transaction that went on behind their backs.

Marketers are up in arms over the FTC’s proposed changes to COPPA that would enable you—the parent or caregiver—to have control over who can collect your child’s information and how they can use it. If the FTC approves the proposal,
parents—for the first time-- will be able to control whether things like cookies, your child’s real time location, screen names, or other so-called “unique identifiers” like IP addresses, can be used to track you children while they are online.

Join us at the Center for Digital Democracy in telling the FTC that you support their efforts to strengthen parental rights when the commissioners vote on these proposed rule changes to COPPA in November. If you would like to join our campaign please send an email to me at joyspencer at democraticmedia dot org to be put on our list to receive updates and information about how you can support the proposal that will protect our children by putting parents first.

This post is part of the MomsRising "Making the School Day Healthier" Blog Carnival headlined by Top Chef Lorena Garcia."

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