The Real Agenda Behind the Recent COPPA Flap
By Ken Magill
If readers take one lesson away from this newsletter, let it be that the privacy movement’s agenda isn’t remotely about protecting anyone’s privacy.
Notice we never hear a peep out of them when the government missteps or oversteps. No, the privacy movement is a thinly veiled attack on capitalism aimed at kneecapping advertisers’ ability to reach prospects effectively.
Even so, at first glance, recent complaints to the Federal Trade Commission by 17 so-called child advocacy groups against McDonald’s, General Mills and other companies’ refer-a-friend email marketing efforts looks like an unusual case of privacy-zealot idiocy.
But once one understands their real agenda, it makes sense.
In late August, the groups filed complaints with the FTC against McDonald's HappyMeal.com, Viacom's Nick.com, Doctor's Associates Inc's SubwayKids.com, Turner Broadcasting System's CartoonNetwork.com, General Mills Inc's ReesesPuffs.com and TrixWorld.com.
The complaints alleged the companies’ refer-a-friend email marketing efforts are violations of the Children’s Online Privacy protection Act.
“’Refer-a-friend’ is a form of viral marketing that allows companies to leverage their relationships with children to reach other children,” said a letter to the FTC from the Georgetown University Law Center representing the Center for Digital Democracy. “These companies encourage children who are playing games or engaging in other activities on their websites to provide the email addresses of their friends, then use those email addresses to send unsolicited marketing messages to the children’s friends.”
To which anyone with a smidgeon of common sense would respond: “Yeah? So what?”
Side question: How many kids even have email addresses?
It’s extremely difficult to believe that corporate counsel at the targeted companies haven’t carefully gone over their marketing practices and deemed them COPPA compliant.
And where’s the harm? Let’s go back to the Georgetown Law letter and see:
“Refer-a-friend campaigns are deceptive to children,” the letter said. “It is well understood that younger children lack the cognitive ability to recognize advertising, to understand persuasive intent, and to critically evaluate advertisements. When a child shares a game through a site’s refer-a-friend function, neither the sender nor recipient is likely to understand that the game or video is advertising. Indeed, the language on some websites seems designed to disguise the fact that it is advertising.
“[C]hildren are much more trusting than adults. Unlike adults, they lack the capacity to make an informed decision as to whether to share a friend’s information because they have no concept of the value of a friend’s email address to a particular company. Thus, using children to virally market products to other children online takes unfair advantage of children’s trust and lack of experience.”
But we still haven’t got a case for actual harm. We simply have a bunch of weenie busybodies complaining about a marketing tactic that apparently works to some degree known only to the companies that employ it.
Turns out this particular effort is a front for the food police.
"Most of these multinational companies are selling sugar, basically, and they're marketing directly to kids," said Lori Dorfman, director of one of the complainants, the Berkeley Media Studies Group, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. "The FTC needs to, one, understand the seriousness of this, and two, call these companies to account."
See? It’s not about protecting children’s privacy at all. It’s about the sugar.
The so-called privacy movement’s agenda has never been aimed at protecting people’s privacy. Privacy zealots’ aim is pushing an anti-marketing-and-advertising agenda through using any disingenuous argument they can concoct.