Editorial: State should not wait for Congress to protect kids’ privacy

Published: Monday, Mar. 3, 2014 - 12:00 am

As kids step into the Internet, adults need to provide basic protection.

In that spirit, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg introduced Senate Bill 1177, which seeks to protect the privacy of children using educational software and to prevent companies from tailoring ads for them.

Congress should set a national standard prohibiting websites from tracking kids’ Internet movements, and using that information to market to them. Bills are pending in the House and Senate. But California should not wait for the feds to act.

A recent New York Times story noted that educational software intended for minors was a $7.97 billion business in 2011-12. It is sure to grow, as teachers find new ways to use online services and applications to help teach, and to tailor lessons for individual children.

Last year, Steinberg won approval for a broader measure prohibiting Internet markets from knowingly targeting minors, or allowing others to compile and use personal information about minors.

Starting in 2015, sites must provide an erase button so minors can remove their posts. Steinberg carried that bill after reports that kids were targeted with ads for alcohol, tobacco and diet products, apparently based on the websites they visited.

A main advocate for both bills is James Steyer, whose brother, Tom, has become a major funder of environmentalist causes and politicians. James Steyer heads the child advocacy Common Sense Media in San Francisco.

“We messed up the privacy of kids, and probably adults, too, in the online commercial, consumer space because we weren’t prepared for the extraordinary pace of technology,” Steyer told The New York Times. “Now we have the opportunity to get it right in the school space.”

Parents are, of course, the first line of defense for their Web-surfing kids. Teachers must monitor use, too, when they expect kids to use educational sites. Parents and teachers could use a little help in the form of Steinberg’s legislation.

Read more articles by the Editorial Board



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