Protecting Your Children's Privacy

CMA's Tips for Parents

Children have become increasingly adept users of the Internet, enjoy greater access to products and services, and begin to develop relationships with information-based marketers at an earlier age. In fact, most children are more cyber-savvy than their parents. But they tend to have a trusting and curious nature that can lead them to give up their personal information without realizing it.

The following tips will help you safeguard your children's privacy in the information age:

  1. Explain to your children why privacy is important, and how to protect it. You've taught them not to talk to strangers, so you should extend that rule to environments both in and outside the home. Make it clear to your child that he or she should ask for your permission before surrendering any information about themselves or their family on the Web, over the telephone or in a survey or contest entry.
  2. Make sure that your children know about marketing techniques. Surf a variety of sites, watch TV and look at magazines and marketing materials with your children to help them understand the difference between content and promotion.
  3. Teach your children that clubs, games and contests (whether online or not) can be fun, but that they need to be cautious and should always check with you before joining a club, filling out a survey or entering a contest. Many marketers (including CMA members) offer consumers the option to decline to have personal details collected or transferred.
  4. Supervise your children's online activities. Put your family computer in a common area and check in regularly. Take time to surf with your child, and look for privacy policies on a variety of sites. Come up with family projects that can be done on the Internet. Becoming familiar with the Internet will help you establish practical rules for what your children can and cannot do online.
  5. Consider using parental control software if you cannot be with your children when they surf the Web. But understand that these programs are limited, and cannot replace your own guidance of your child's online activities.
  6. Watch for "Cookies." These are files automatically placed on your computer to track your behaviour within certain websites. They allow companies to create profiles of people who visit their sites. CMA members are required to disclose what personal information is collected and how you can opt out. You can also change the options in your browser so that a website will have to get your permission to place a "cookie" on your computer.
  7. Encourage your child to keep his or her identity confidential in chat rooms, bulletin boards or newsgroups. Teach your child to choose a screen name that does not identify them, and help them understand that any information they exchange on the Internet is not private. If they meet someone online (even another child) who asks for their address, telephone number or other personal details, they should discuss it with you before sharing their personal information.
  8. Use "what if" scenarios to provide examples of how your children can make choices to protect their privacy. If a child has made a mistake by giving up personal information, use the experience as a learning opportunity.
  9. If you think a marketer is collecting inappropriate information, contact the company to register your objection. Check with the Canadian Marketing Association to see if the company is a member, and should be in compliance with the CMA Privacy Code.
  10. Check out the Media Awareness Network site for information on helping children learn how to surf safely on the Internet.