December 3rd, 2008

Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Nestle 'Obtaining Children's Personal Details'

By Matt Johnston
Herald Sun

Junk food companies are collecting children’s personal details via websites to direct marketing messages to them.

New advertising regulations standards and privacy concerns have not stopped companies such as Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Nestle obtaining children’s phone numbers, dates of birth, and even home addresses through their youth-friendly websites.

Some companies go a step further, asking children and teens to explain their personal spending habits and interests.

A new study of internet-based marketing found young people are frequently offered online rewards to supply their friends’ details to food companies, or to pass marketing messages to other people.

Study author Prof Sandra Jones, of the University of Wollongong, [Australia], said few parents knew what their children were signing up for.

“I don’t think a lot of parents realise. They think it’s pretty harmless, going on a cereal or noodles website. It’s a lot of information to be collecting from a child, and these websites have pretty token methods of getting parental approval.

“It’s a real privacy concern, because if parents thought people were walking up to kids in the street asking for names and addresses they’d object. They might not know that is what’s happening to their kids on these websites.”

The study, presented at the Australian and New Zealand Marketing Academy Conference in Sydney, looked at websites for eight leading Australian food companies used by children - McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Streets, Nestle, Cadbury, Kraft, Uncle Toby’s and Kellogg’s.

Prof Jones said regulations for online marketing to children were poor.

A Coca-Cola spokeswoman said last night the company had a strict policy not to market to children under 12.

A McDonald’s spokeswoman was unable to comment, and a Nestle spokeswoman said it had very strict policies on marketing to children but, without having seen the research, it was not able to comment.

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