Group seeks strong restrictions on kids' Web marketing

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Federal Trade Commission staffers said they would seriously consider a request by several consumer and privacy groups to impose major restrictions on Web marketing to children.

At a press conference Thursday morning in Washington, the Center for Media Education accused marketers of trying to target "cyber tots" and called for broad restrictions on child-aimed Web sites.

The center called for a broad series of actions:

-Marketers should be banned from using hypertext links to jump from children's content areas to advertising sites.
-Marketers and media companies should be banned from obtaining any personal information, including the age and e-mail address, of children.
-Advertising and promotion should be clearly labeled to separate it from other content.
-Product mascots should be banned as spokespersons.
-Microtargeting and direct response marketing should be banned from all children's Web sites.

"We are here to sound the alarm," said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center, citing the group's study showing that children were being asked personal information about their families.

However, individual groups attending the news conference expressed some difference on the importance of several of the items.

Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said his group's biggest concern was marketers gathering personal information from children without disclosing how that information was to be used or getting parents' permission.

Helen Liebowitz, a member of the board of directors of the National PTA, however, called for even broader restrictions against advertising content on the Web.

The Center mentioned pages from Kellogg Co., Frito-Lay, Nickelodeon and Pepsi-Cola Co. during the news conference but did not specifically target any one of them.

Lee Peeler, the FTC's associate director for advertising practices, said the agency will take the allegations of deceptive and unfair marketing to kids seriously.

"We have not looked at these particular issues ourselves," he said. "Clearly the issue that jumped out at you was the individual data being collected without intervention by their parents."

A Kellogg Co. spokeswoman said the company's use of primary cereal characters to communicate to consumers on its Web site is meant to be "fun and interactive." The company added that it followed the Better Business Bureau's guidelines for children's TV advertising in the development of its site.

Contributing: Leah Haran.

Copyright March 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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