A collective of advocacy organizations sent letters to the Federal Trade Commission today asking the agency to investigate several branded sites aimed at kids.
"Reeses Puffs! Reeses Puffs! Eat 'em up, Eat 'em up, Eat 'em up, Eat 'em up!" That's just one of the refrains visitors to General Mills-owned ReesesPuffs.com will hear when playing the Reeses Puffs "Dance Battle" on the site. The kid-aimed site features an interactive music experience with a DJ-inspired turntable and a soundboard for recording a customized tune - and lots and lots of references to the sugary cereal inspired by the beloved chocolate and peanut butter candy.
The site also includes many opportunities to provide the email addresses of friends to send them content, like a personalized cartoon Dance Battle submission, through "tell a friend" forms.
Privacy advocates don't like it. A collective of advocacy organizations including Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Federation of America, Center for Science in the Public Interest, and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, sent letters to the Federal Trade Commission today asking the agency to investigate the General Mills-owned site, along with several other branded sites aimed at kids. The groups allege that the sites violate the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.
Other websites called into question are HappyMeal.com from McDonald's, General Mills' TrixWorld.com, Doctor's Associates' SubwayKids.com, Viacom's Nick.com, and Turner Broadcasting's CartoonNetwork.com.
The main concern is data collection. "These 'tell-a-friend' practices violate the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act because they are done without adequate notice to parents and without parental consent," stated Georgetown Law Professor Angela Campbell in a CDD press release. The Reeses Puffs website, for instance, does not require users to provide their ages or get parental consent to interact or supply email addresses. The site does feature a small image at the top right that says, "Hey kids, this is advertising."
"We have not been contacted by these organizations - but we believe they have mischaracterized or misunderstood this, at least as it relates to General Mills," noted a company spokesperson in an email sent to ClickZ. "COPPA permits 'send to a friend' emails, provided the sending friend's email address or full name is never collected and the recipient's email address is deleted following the sending of the message. "
"McDonald's makes every effort to be in compliance with all government regulations. Rest assured we take these matters seriously and are currently examining the complaint to better understand the allegations," wrote Danya Proud, a McDonald's USA spokesperson in an email.
The complaints sent to the FTC mention a variety of ways the sites allegedly collect user photos, email addresses, and other information. When submitting a friend's email address to share content from ReesesPuffs.com, for example, the site notes, "Email addresses you provide will not be saved or used for any other purpose."
"These refer-a-friend forms collect personal information from children," states the missive sent to the FTC regarding McDonald's. "The COPPA Rule defines 'collects' as 'the gathering of any personal information from a child by any means, including but not limited to...[r]equesting that children submit personal information online.'"
The privacy groups want the FTC to prohibit behavioral ad targeting to kids, which would be enabled when they visit such websites, which is encouraged by friends if they share a link to content via an email form.
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.
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