Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Just Death: Act To Prevent Predatory Marketing Practices against Minors

Claiming that it violated the First Amendment, companies like Yahoo!, AOL, eBay (disclosure: client), and News Corp. as well as the Association of National Advertisers, the Motion Picture Association of America and the civil liberties advocacy group Center for Democracy & Technology, yesterday convinced the Maine legislature to repeal an act designed to protect minors from aggressive data collection.

What sounded like a great idea to protect children was doomed from the start though. According to the Wall Street Journal, Maine’s attorney general decided not to enforce the law even before it was scheduled to go into effect, with the understanding that minors under 13 were already protected by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

While applauding the law’s intent, the committee determined that the “Act To Prevent Predatory Marketing Practices against Minors” was too broad and limiting – and could affect whether major companies do business in the state.

According to MediaPost, the law “prohibits companies from knowingly collecting personal information or health-related information from minors under 18 without their parents' consent.”

In theory that’s great, but there are some major pitfalls.

According to the WSJ:

In the complaint, the Maine Independent Colleges Association, for example, protested that the law would prevent Maine colleges from sending marketing materials to minors who requested information without first obtaining parental consent.

And according to MediaPost:

[Opponents] argued that the law could result in companies like Something Fishy -- which offers an online forum where teens discuss eating disorders. Something Fishy appears to violate the Maine law because it allows minors under 18 to register and participate without parental permission.

According to the AP (me), Maine’s lawmakers got it right on this one. But again, this showcases how society needs to keep an open mind to all sides as we move ahead in the digital future.

Photo via MediaPost

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