March 4th, 2004

Senators: Hands Off Kids Data

By Kim Zetter
Wired

Two lawmakers introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate Wednesday to prohibit corporations
from selling the personal information of children under the age of 16 without
their parents’ consent.

Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) introduced the Children’s
Listbroker Privacy Act to limit the sale of personally identifiable information
for purposes of marketing to children, as part of a larger package of legislation
intended to help parents combat commercial attacks on their children.

Companies spend about $12 billion annually on marketing aimed at children,
often using targeted lists from brokers who sell data not only on teens but
on preschoolers as well. The lists can include a child’s name, address, age,
ethnicity, religious affiliation, sports activities, hobbies and family income
level.

The legislation would make it illegal for organizations like Student Marketing
Group and American Student List to sell, buy or lease personal information about
anyone known to be 16 or under without the parent’s consent. It would also prohibit
list purchasers from using any data obtained about a child for marketing purposes
without parental permission.

Wyden said the bill is particularly important because children are more vulnerable
to manipulation and deception in marketing pitches than adults.

"The wholesale trafficking in specific information about individual children
is something that I think most parents would find troubling—I know I certainly
do," said Wyden in a statement.

While two other federal laws in the package currently place some restrictions
on the collection and distribution of children’s information, their scope is
limited, said Gary Ruskin, executive director of Commercial Alert. The Children’s
Online Privacy Protection Act covers only the online collection of data for
those 13 and younger. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act prohibits
the disclosure of information from children’s school records.

"The commercial assault on our nations’ children is intensifying,"
Ruskin said. "Many large companies see childhood as a commercial free-fire
zone. But some things shouldn’t be for sale, and our children’s personal information
is one of them."

No number has been assigned to the bill yet, but it is expected to go to the
Senate commerce committee.

 

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