On Capitol Hill, Nick Cannon talks Online Privacy for Children

Mar 7, 2012 5:29pm
gty nick cannon capitol hill nt 120307 main On Capitol Hill, Nick Cannon talks Online Privacy for Children

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Music and television personality Nick Cannon appeared on Capitol Hill today to endorse a bill aimed at increasing online privacy for children. Appearing at a press conference hosted by Representatives Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Joe Barton, R-Tex., the entertainer said he was concerned about websites and smartphones storing information on young consumers without their knowledge or parental consent.

“Most at that age don’t have the judgment or the maturity to protect themselves from those capable of taking advantage of them by tracking their whereabouts on the internet.” Cannon said, but he warned it was still a parent’s responsibility to teach the fundamentals of online safety.

“Parental supervision should extend from the playground to the Internet.”

Congressmen Markey and Barton are cosponsors of the Do Not Track Kids Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation that if passed by Congress would require the FCC to enforce strict guidelines limiting the ability of websites, cellular providers, or advertising agencies to use children’s personal data. Specifically it would prohibit companies from tracking minors and restrict the use of ads targeted to children. It also introduces an “eraser button,” which would allow parents to remove information on their child already circulating the web. The lawmakers are co-chairs of the Congressional Privacy Caucus.

“The emails we write, the topics we search, the pictures we post, all leave digital traces across the web that are scooped up by marketers, major corporations, and other data reapers that are often invisible to users.”

Outside moral questions of targeted advertising the lawmakers shared concern over the long-term ramifications of the data storage.

“Children are young and impressionable,” Markey said. “What they say or do online should not haunt them for the rest of their lives. Kids’ personal information can easily be turned and used without their knowledge or turned and used against them.”

The congressman used hypothetical examples to illustrate his point: A young girl bombarded by weight loss ads, or a 21 year old being denied a job after photos surface of them engaging in underage drinking as a teenager.

“I need some of my online activity erased too,” Cannon later joked.

Cannon, who currently hosts NBC reality show America’s Got Talent, was picked up as a spokesman for Safe Communications, Inc. in February. Some of the company’s products are designed to filter children’s emails and texts for inappropriate content or unknown contacts.

The Do Not Track Kids Act is an amendment to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, an era the lawmakers were quick to point out came long before a wired generation raised on social media. A recent Consumer Reports survey says of the 20 million minors on Facebook, over a third are younger than 13, the minimum age to use the site.

The bill has slowly gained traction since it was first introduced to the House of Representatives in May 2011 but critics say the legislation is over-broad and unenforceable. Justin Brookman of the Center for Democracy and Technology says that if the bill were to pass, even general-purpose websites such as ABC.com would require a user’s credit card or other strong ID form to verify their age. He doubts it would stand up to scrutiny in federal court.

“It would be extremely expensive for companies to even try to comply with it, which might be technically impossible,” Brookman told ABC News. “Many services would probably just stop operating out of liability concerns.”

In an email interview, Brookman says the “eraser button” would cause the most difficulty given the complex landscape of the Internet.

“Data is so easily copied and repurposed you can’t reasonably expect permanent and persistent deletion of your record.”

Brookman says an easier approach would be wider protections for consumers regardless of age. The theme coincides with a recent call from the White House for a “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.”

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