Marketers Told to Protect Kid Privacy Online

Advertisers and agencies making online sales pitches to children are being told to toughen their privacy policies or expect to see growing demands from parents and government officials for restrictive regulation, the New York Times reports.

The Times covered a recent daylong conference at the World Trade Center in New York that was described by its organizers as a “guide to safe harbors and sound practices online.” The conference, the third of its kind, was sponsored by the Children’s Advertising Review Unit.

“We’ve done a pretty good job so far,” Elizabeth Lascoutx, vice president and director for the children’s unit, said in her opening remarks to the 85 people at the conference. “But we have a long way to go.”

There are increasing consumer perceptions that many marketers are reluctant to address problems like the overzealous collection of personally identifiable information from young computer users, the Times said.

Those involved in the children’s Internet market ought to be “joining forces and writing a privacy page so kids know what to give out and not give out,” said Parry Aftab, the author of “A Parents’ Guide to the Internet. . . And How to Protect Your Children.”

“We need to find a workable solution,” she added, “or we’ll lose the wonderful wealth of creativity and content that sites can offer.”

The advocacy of self-regulation by the children’s unit had been echoed by the Clinton administration, which sent Ira Magaziner, the president’s Internet adviser, to the 1997 conference to applaud efforts to establish voluntary guidelines to police online peddling to youngsters.

But in June, a report from the Federal Trade Commission said legislation might be required because violations of children’s privacy online are frequent and safeguards are woefully absent.

“You don’t have to look very far to see a fundamental mistake there, a mistake we cannot make anymore,” said John Kamp, senior vice president at the American Association of Advertising Agencies. “In legal terms, it’s called fraud,” he added with a smile. “In general terms, it’s called ‘Do you know what you’re doing?”‘

Kamp’s organization is one of the three involved with the children’s unit; the others are the American Advertising Federation and the Association of National Advertisers.

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