After two years of wrangling and public commentary, the Federal Trade Commission just released an amended Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (aka, COPPA…don’t ask us where the “A” went). The intent, as it was in the 2010 version, is to keep kids’ online data private.
Included in COPPA 2013 are new protections for the under-13 age bracket that keep marketers from doing things like the following while kids are online:
- Collecting geolocation information, photographs, and videos, unless parents consent (!!!??)
- Permitting third parties to collect personal information from children through (sneaky) plug-ins
- Using IP addresses and mobile device IDs to track kids across the web
- Being sloppy about data sharing and data security (how was THAT not in the 2010 version ?!?)
All good things that will p*ss off many a shady marketer.
But what we didn’t see in the FTC’s press release (fair disclosure: we haven’t read the full 169-page rule, and don’t plan to) was any reference to keeping market researchers away from kids.
Why should we care? After all, toy companies, for example, have been using focus groups of kids for years to help figure out what products to make, and how to market them.
Because of a story we came across at (the typically) excellent Paid Content earlier this week. It featured results of a study by the children’s publisher Scholastic about kids, e-books, and e-readers.
“46% of kids have read an e-book, up from 25% in 2010.” OK. Sounds logical.
“57% of girls who had never read an e-book said they wanted to…46% [for] boys.” Whaaaaaaaaat?
How would a kid know what an e-book was if she’d never read one before? Maybe the person doing the survey waved a shiny Kindle in front of the kid’s face? What kid wouldn’t say “yes” to that ?
But it turns out there was no “surveyor in the room.” This survey was done ONLINE. So how do you describe an e-book – something 54% of kids have never seen or could contemplate at age 6 – in an online poll?
Looking deeper into the survey methodology, we saw this:
“Parents were invited to help young children read the survey but were asked to allow children to independently answer all questions.”
So, little Suzie took an online survey about technology she can’t see and has never seen, with “no help” *wink wink* from Mommy?
As evidence of how contaminated the results were, we noted that the % of kids who never had an e-reader that said they now wanted one plummeted in the higher age ranges. Teens don’t ask Mommy for help, even with online surveys. So they end up not knowing about, thus not wanting, an e-book.
Next time COPPA comes up for renewal, hopefully the FTC can add a clause that disallows all online market research of kids under 13.