5. Collection of Information from Children

Neither Bill C-54 nor the CSA Model Code specifically address the application of fair information practice principles to children in the context of the on-line environment. Children, however, do have a special status under the law, as is evidenced by the array of laws that are designed specifically to protect children including those that ban sale of tobacco and alcohol to minors, prohibit child pornography, require parental consent for medical procedures, and make contracts with children voidable.124

In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission voiced alarming concern pertaining to unfair trade practices employed in the on-line environment to children. In July, 1997 the FTC set out certain practices that appeared to violate the Federal Trade Commission Act:

(a) It is a deceptive practice to represent that a site is collecting personal identifying information from a child for a particular purpose (e.g. to earn points to redeem a premium), when the information will also be used for another purpose that parents would find material, in the absence of a clear and prominent disclosure to that effect; and

(b) It is likely to be an unfair practice to collect personal identifying information, such as a name, e-mail address, home address, or phone number, from children and to sell or otherwise disclose such identifying information to third parties, or to post it publicly online, without providing parents with adequate notice and an opportunity to control the collection and use of the information through prior parental consent.125

In June, 1998, the FTC, in its report to Congress, set out the following guidelines with respect to the collection and use of information from children in the Internet context.

To assure that notice and choice are effective, a Web site should provide adequate notice to a parent that the site wishes to collect personal identifying information from the child, and give the parent an opportunity to control the collection and use of that information. Further, according to the staff opinion letter, in cases where the information may be released to third parties or the general public, the site should obtain the parent's actual or verifiable consent to its collection.

The content of the notice should include at a minimum, the elements described above, but, in addition, should take into account the fact that online activities may be unique and unfamiliar to parents. Thus, a notice should be sufficiently detailed to tell parents clearly the type(s) of information the Web site collects from children and the steps parents can take to control the collection and use of their child's personal information. Where a Web site offers children interactive activities such as chat, message boards, free e-mail services, posting of home pages and key pal programs, it should explain to parents the nature of these activities and that children's participation enables others to communicate directly with them. Such notice empowers parents to monitor their children's interactions and to help protect their children from the risks of inappropriate online interactions.

Since parents may not be fully aware of what personal information a site has collected from their child, the access/participation principle is a particularly important one with respect to information collected from children. To provide informed consent to the retention and/or use of information collected from their children, parents need to be given access to the information collected from their children, particularly if any of the information is collected prior to providing notice to the parent. The principle of integrity, which addresses the accuracy of the data, is also important for children's information. Parents have an interest in assuring that whatever information Web sites collect from children or have otherwise obtained about their children is accurate. This is particularly important in contexts that involve decisions that impact on the child or family, such as educational or health decisions. In addition, since children's information is considered to be a more sensitive type of information, sites should take the same steps identified above to assure that children's data is secure from unauthorized uses or disclosures.126

The FTC also recommended that Congress enact specific legislation to protect children in the Internet context. In response to this recommendation, the United States Federal Government passed the Childrens' On Line Privacy Protection Act of 1998.127

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