What information is collected
Kids should look for if the information the site collects correlates with its function. For example, Amazon asks for a lot of information but Amazon needs name, address and credit card number to process an order. Paper Toss, a free app, collects location data. Arguably, Paper Toss does not need location data in order to toss virtual paper into a virtual garbage can. Kids should definitely watch out for apps and websites collecting excessive data. An examination of 101 popular smartphone “apps” by the Wall Street Journal found that 47 apps transmitted the phone’s location.
How it is collected
Websites collect information in 2 ways: a person enters it or the website or app automatically collects. Kids may provide information by filling out a profile, answering surveys or participating in chat rooms. Companies can automatically collect information by using cookies.
Cookies are small pieces of code that allow websites to identify individual computers. Cookies are the reason a user does not have to login to Facebook every time or Amazon immediately says “Hello Kidsprivacy!” But, marketing companies can also place cookies on a computer and track online surfing.
Cookies become a problem when tracking data is combined with another database containing personal information. For example, if a social network profile is linked with marketers’ tracking data. Connecting a person’s name with their surfing habits can create quite a robust profile. If a company is combining information you may see language such as “(w)e may also link information stored on your computer in cookies with personal data about specific individuals stored on our servers.”
Kids should limit their exposure to cookies from ad networks. The Network Advertising Initiative has information about how to opt out of many networks. Kids can also delete cookies from their browsers. However, some websites and apps will not run without cookies.
Who has the information
Most privacy policies talk about sharing information with other entities. Some privacy policies talk about sharing information with affiliates and/or trusted third parties. Like “Friends of Friends” on Facebook, affiliates or trusted third parties can include a lot of companies. Unfortunately, people do not have a lot of options on how to eliminate this sharing other than not using the site or app.
Kids should identify what type of information is being shared among all these parties. Most often it is aggregated data. Aggregated data has all personally identifiable information removed and is organize in groups. For example, a company may share information about women ages 18-24 in the zip code 98056. Selling this information is how many free apps and websites make money.
How it complies with COPPA
The most likely language you will see regarding the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is “(w)e do not allow children under 13 to register for any service, and we do not knowingly collect any personally identifiable information from children under 13.” Even though it does not offer any protection, I always like to see that a company is at least aware of COPPA.
If a site does allow users under 13 they should have a section on COPPA. The Federal Trade Commission enforces COPPA and has a list of requirements for how companies must protect children’s personal information. The policy should address how they adhere to the rules and regulations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.
How long the website stores data
How data is protected
All data should be protected. Kids should be wary of any website that does not outline some form of data protection. Policies should talk about protecting data by “maintain industry-standard physical, electronic, and procedural safeguards to guard your personal information” or “transmitting personal information (credit cards) to other websites, protected through the use of encryption” or “take commercially reasonable precautions to protect the information from loss, misuse and unauthorized access, disclosure, alteration and destruction of data.”
What other information exists
Still unsure about a website or app, check out Common Sense Media. Here, kids can read reviews on the latest apps and websites. Do not skip the comment section. This has great information about what kids and parents are finding when they use an app or visit the website.