Groups Claim Amazon Violating Children’s Privacy Law is once
again feeling the lash of the privacy whip as 11 groups Tuesday asked the Federal Trade Commission to look into the
Seattle-based e-commerce giant because they say the firm lets children post
personal information on its Web site, a violation of a federal law.

This claim, spearheaded by the Electronic
Privacy Information Center
, argues that Amazon is violating the Children’s Online Privacy
Protection Act (COPPA)
because it lets children 12 years old and younger
post reviews of toy products without parental consent.

COPPA was formed in 1998 to protect children’s identities on the Web.

The central complaint is that, which sells products from,, and,
allowed several reviews that contained personal information posted by
children to go live. EPIC’s argument is that does not effectively
manage and monitor its review process, which requires those who wish to post
a review of a product to provide an e-mail address and birth date “but not
birth year.” EPIC said’s only apparent COPPA compliance mechanism
is bundled in this review system.

“In the first step of the registration process, Amazon provides a link
labeled ‘Under 13? Use our Kid’s Review Form,'” Epic said in its filing. “In
repeated visits to the Amazon site, this link did not direct the browser to
the Kid’s Review Form; instead, the user was forwarded back to the product
page that the user was attempting to review.”

EPIC also argued that lures children with bright colors: “Amazon
uses colorful and child-like fonts for this portion of the site, while other
portions of the site devoted to adult products lack such child-oriented

But says in its privacy policy that it does “not sell products
for purchase by children. We sell children’s products for purchase by
adults. If you are under 18, you may use only with the
involvement of a parent or guardian.” spokesman Bill Curry said in many published reports that the
claim is groundless because the company does not sell to or target children.
He did allow that a software glitch, which has since been corrected, was
responsible for the flawed sign-in page.

But Chris Hoofnagle, Deputy Counsel at EPIC, doubts’s intentions: “They have changed their privacy policy to the detriment of consumers before, and I do not think they have a commitment to privacy. The company
follows a “personalization” model which maximizes requirements for personal
information, and especially in the context of bookselling, this is
dangerous to privacy and autonomy.”

Experts said the move is actually a tactical, industry-wide play in which
EPIC lawyers are hoping to scare other e-commerce sites to follow COPPA laws
by going for the sector’s unequivocal giant, and by extension, retailers
that sell children’s products. More broadly, if the FTC agrees with EPIC’s
allegation, other businesses may be forced to reconsider how they sell
children’s products.

“I think a lot of sites are operating with Amazon’s same approach to
COPPA–this “we don’t actually sell to children” argument,” said Hoofnagle. “That doesn’t work. No one *sells* directly to children. You market to children, which then puts pressure on parents to buy the product. We are trying to improve industry practices on collection of children’s information across the board. This same complaint could have been written on any number of major Internet retailers that have taken Amazon’s
approach, but they all change this approach when the FTC takes action.”

The FTC has been known to levy fat fines on companies it finds to be in
violation of federal laws and this case is not without precedence: Mrs.
Fields’ Original Cookies Inc. and Hershey Foods Corp. in February agreed to pay
$100,000 and $85,000, respectively, to settle FTC charges that they
collected personal data from children.

The FTC has said it will review the complaint, but did not offer a timetable
for when it will be addressed.

The other complainants include: Junkbusters, Commercial Alert, Consumer
Action, Remar Sutton co-founder of the Privacy Rights Now Coalition, The
Center for Media Education, Consumer Federation of America, The Privacy
Rights Clearinghouse, The Media Access Project, Privacyactivism and Computer
Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR).

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