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Newsletter: Privacy-minded consumer groups say the kids aren’t all right

FTC unveils broader rules to protect kids’ privacy online
A coalition of consumer organizations is calling on the Federal Trade Commission to review how companies are marketing to children and tracking them online.
(Santa Cruz Sentinel)

I’m Business columnist David Lazarus, with a look today at kids’ privacy.

A coalition of nearly three dozen consumer and medical groups submitted a letter to the Federal Trade Commission last week calling for a review of how companies are marketing to children and tracking them online. They also want more transparency about what information is being collected and how it’s being stored.

“Advertising to children is a lucrative, booming business, and not enough is understood about these new methods of surveilling and monetizing children, or the impact that it has on their privacy and well-being,” the letter says.

Among other practices cited by the groups is the growing trend of “playable” ads — that is, ads that are presented as video games, blurring the line between marketing and entertainment.

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“What is the likely impact of these new methods on children’s psycho-social development, and what is the impact on the family and social interactions?” the letter asks. “What kinds of data are collected via these new applications, especially with regard to being able to make inferences about behavioral and psychological traits?”

In other words, what are the ramifications of businesses using increasingly sophisticated methods to spy on our kids?

This isn’t a new concern. Tech companies learned decades ago there was money to be made from targeting children. In September, Google’s YouTube was hit with a record $170-million fine for collecting personal information from kids without their parents’ consent.

The FTC is currently reviewing the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which requires parental consent before companies can collect data from children younger than 13. The agency has received more than 160,000 comments to date, many from companies that worry about their ability to produce kid-friendly content.

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The coalition — including the Center for Digital Democracy, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the American Academy of Pediatrics — says the FTC should demand more information from tech companies about their practices before moving forward with any revision of the privacy law.

“The FTC cannot base substantive policy decisions on the current dearth of details about how the information ecosystem functions,” the letter says. “Rather, the FTC must conduct and complete a series of long-overdue studies to shed light on these opaque industries before it adopts any privacy-related rulemaking or major policy change.”

Indeed, if the tech industry has nothing to hide, it should welcome added sunlight cast upon its dealings with young ones. Americans might not be able to agree on how much privacy adults are entitled to. But I suspect we’re all of one mind when it comes to our kids.

Now then, here are a couple of recent stories from our pages worth highlighting:

UC outsourcing: The University of California is at war with its largest union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), over outsourcing of jobs. Specifically, the two sides are at odds over the university’s use of workers from temporary help agencies and staffing firms to fill low- and middle-wage service and healthcare jobs.

The taxman cometh: Homeowners in L.A. County have until Tuesday to pay their property taxes without a penalty. While Proposition 13 keeps taxes low for many longtime homeowners, more recently acquired properties will receive larger bills. Here are 12 L.A. homeowners expected to cough up more than $1 million.

Recalls

Tainted romaine lettuce from California’s Salinas Valley has been linked to 102 illnesses in 23 states. The tally more than doubles the magnitude of an ongoing outbreak linked to E. coli bacteria generally found in animals. Consumers should check whether their lettuce is labeled with a place of origin, and throw it out if it came from the Salinas Valley, the Food and Drug Administration advised.

Airbags are once again in the crosshairs. A new malfunction involving 1990s-vintage cars with airbags made by now-bankrupt Takata adds 1.4 million front driver inflators to recalls in the United States. The problem is so severe that BMW is warning owners of some older 3-series cars to stop driving them.

Spare change

With worries about kids’ privacy fresh in our heads, several songs about surveillance. The Police served up a biggie. So did Rockwell (who you might not know is Motown founder Berry Gordy’s son, Kennedy William Gordy). But my fave is this one from Elvis (Costello, not Presley).

Let me know what you think of the newsletter. My email is david.lazarus@latimes.com, or you can find me on Twitter @Davidlaz. Also, tell all your social media pals to join the party.

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Until next time, see you in the Business section.


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