Group Seeks Greater Online Security for Kids

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Social networking sites are failing to keep children safe online and protect minors' privacy, according to a majority of respondents to a new survey commissioned by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization focused on shielding children from inappropriate or harmful media content.

The poll, conducted by Zogby International, found that 92 percent of parents worry that children are sharing too much information on the Web, and three-quarters of the respondents expressed a negative opinion about the steps that social sites are taking to safeguard kids.

"The poll results present a clear divide between the industry's view of privacy and the opinion of parents and kids," Common Sense Media CEO James Stever said in a statement.

In conjunction with the release of the survey, Steyer's group is launching a campaign to press Congress to update a statute that set rules for collecting information about children on the Internet as part of a larger overhaul of federal privacy law.

Common Sense Media is calling for a "Do Not Track Kids" list to bar marketers from amassing profiles of minors' Web activities to target advertising messages. The behavioral targeting ban would be modeled after the national do-not-call registry that sets limits on telemarketers.

Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz, who attended an event launching the new campaign, has already floated the idea of a more general do-not-track list that would allow all Web users to opt out of online behavioral targeting.

But Common Sense Media is going a step farther, calling for an opt-in regime that would require marketers to secure explicit permission from parents before collecting any type of information about minors.

"Parents want far more education and leadership about online privacy, and they clearly want the industry and the federal government to update privacy policies," Steyer said.

The new campaign is the latest effort from members of the advocacy community to press Congress to update the 1998 Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a law they say has fallen out of step with the way kids are interacting online.

Congress and the FTC, which is tasked with enforcing the law, have both held proceedings this year on updating the statute.

In the meantime, Facebook and other industry members have sought to demonstrate that they take kids' privacy and security seriously, touting new efforts to enforce minimum age requirements and help educate parents about online safety.

In July, for instance, Facebook launched a new safety page to complement the Safety Center the social network has created to serve as a hub of information for parents, teachers and others.

The previous month, the company announced a partnership with the Parent Teacher Association to combat online threats to kids, such as cyberbullying.

Kenneth Corbin is an associate editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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