Amazon Accused of Breaching US Child Privacy Law

24 April 2003 is denying accusations from several US lobby groups that it has breached a law protecting children’s online privacy.

Bodies such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Media Access Project have reported the etail giant to the Federal Trade Commission for a section of its website allowing children to post product reviews. Sometimes these have included names, email addresses and other personal details.

EPIC claims this breaks the 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which forbids sites from displaying information submitted by children under 13 unless they have parental approval.

The lobby groups want the FTC to investigate Amazon and judge it against the 1998 law. The Act has not hitherto been applied to etailers such as Amazon, only to sites with special games or activities areas for children.

EPIC et al argue that he etailer’s child-dedicated sections fall under the scope of the legislation because they use images of children and child-friendly typography. Amazon is the web outlet for toy firms such as Toys R Us.

Should the FTC agree the rules can be interpreted in this way, there would be major implications for online marketers to children. “If Amazon is hit with a fine, other ecommerce sites will call their own lawyers immediately,” predicted law professor Peter P Swire, who advised on the 1998 legislation.

However, Amazon – which will remove the sensitive information highlighted by EPIC – denies it is governed by the Act. “We are not a site that's directed at children,” it insisted. “We're a store. We sell things, and you need a credit card to buy them. When it comes to reviews, we created special software for anonymous reviews by children under 13.”

The FTC says it will review the complaint, but has made no statement on whether it will launch an official investigation.

Data sourced from: Washington Post Online; additional content by WARC staff