Parents in the USA have expressed strong concerns about the sharing of children's personal data over the internet
In a survey, released just before law makers decide on a proposal to strengthen child privacy laws, almost all - nine out of 10 - of 2,000 adults said advertisers had an obligation to get the go-ahead before collecting the name, address or any other personal data of a user under 13.
They have also said businesses should refrain from asking a for a child’s location or information about friends.
Currently the water is murky when it comes to how far regulators can go with the privacy of children. The argument is too much regulation can stifle the growing web, media and mobile industries, which often rely on sharing - and storing - information to grow their businesses.
There are also no firm regulations on what can or cannot be done. But this is set to change with the Federal Trade Commission planning to vote this month on revisions to a 1998 law written before the mobile computing boom.
New updates would require permission from parents to track children online with cookies and other tools used by advertisers to create user profiles.
The FTC also wants an update to ensure social networking sites such as Facebook and Zynga are responsible when their partner sites take data on kids. For example, if a child presses Facebook’s “like” button on a news or game site, Facebook would be equally responsible for the handling of that user’s data.
Facebook has rubbished these rules, arguing that it would not be feasible to do this, and it's easy to see why, with the company monetising on third partner apps and games within the site that are unintentionally or intentionally aimed at younger children.
Back in August it was criticised by mothers after allowing a partner to promote a gambling game, which was brightly coloured and full of cartoon characters.
Although it was stated the game, published by JackPotJoy, was not suitable for minors, parents told us the design of the game could lull kids into gambling by offering them what "blatantly" looked like a game for children.
Facebook for its part said third-party apps liable for privacy violations of their partner sites “raised First Amendment concerns”.
Under the proposed changes, web companies would also have to gain permission from parents to ask for information that pinpoints the location of young users.
The survey seems to suggest that parents are in favour of this, with 80 percent opposed to allowing advertisers to collect and use information about a child’s activities online, even in cases where advertisers do not know the actual name and address of a child.
However, in the eyes of such sites, this could impose on their profits as it would prevent them selling the data to advertisers who could use this to send on voucher codes and coupons as well as suggesting similar games.
Kathryn C. Montgomery, Ph.D, professor of communication at American University and one of the leaders of the campaign to pass COPPA during the 1990s, said that children should be able to reap the benefits of the participatory media culture without being subjected to techniques that take advantage of their developmental vulnerabilities.
"We must ensure that the COPPA rules are updated effectively so that the generation of young people growing up online today will be treated fairly in the growing digital marketplace,” Montgomery said.
One parent said, speaking with TechEye, said it's bad enough there aren't secure controls on these sites to stop young children getting on, but then taking advantage of this and their habits is something else.
"It's clear these sites let minors on because they are set to make some sort of revenue from their data through advertisers, but the morals are all wrong," the parent said. "I want to be asked what data on my child can be collected, that's the least these sites can do."