Your Money: Check privacy policy on 'Dear Santa' Web sites

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Many domain names and apps have been registered in the name of Santa, offering children a wide range of opportunities to e-mail and interact with St. Nick. Sadly, some of the sites aren’t always so trustworthy and can potentially be a dangerous way to share personal information. The Better Business Bureau is advising parents to do their homework before letting their child write to Santa this holiday season.

Writing to Santa has been a long lasting tradition, and while it seems innocent and fun, it is very important for adults to carefully review the site to determine who is seeking the information, how it will be used and whether it will be shared with third parties.

According to the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU), all Web sites or apps directed to children – or Web sites designed with a special children’s section – should have a privacy policy that explains the site’s information collection practices. The privacy policy should include the name of the company and the company’s complete contact information.

It should also state whether the company shares information with third parties, including advertisers, and whether the company publicly discloses the information or retains the information for any future purpose. In March 2013, the Federal Trade Commission reported that 59% of the child-directed apps reviewed by FTC staff collected or shared personal information, but only 11% of those apps made that collection clear to users.

CARU offers the following “Dear Santa” site review tips:

• Check to see what they want you to hand over. Web sites directed to children should not ask a child to disclose more information than is reasonably necessary to participate in the activity – a first name and e-mail address, for instance. Anything more from a child could be problematic.

• Limit the personal information children share with Santa and omit physical addresses or geo-location information. In most cases, there really shouldn’t be a need to share this information. Especially since Santa already knows where all the children live. Sites should also require parental consent before collecting or posting any photographs.

• Check Web sites for unwelcome content. Some sites are geared toward adults and may contain language or advertising adults may not want children to see. A filter service could help in those situations.

• Check the links. Since hyperlinks can allow children to move seamlessly from one site to another, investigate the hyperlinks to ensure children don’t access inappropriate content.

• Talk to your child about what information they should not share and why. Use this time to teach your child about online privacy.

Taking a little extra time to review a site before turning your child loose could help keep them protected and give you added peace of mind during the Christmas season.

REACH KELVIN COLLINS, THE PRESIDENT/CEO OF THE BETTER BUSINESS BUREAU OF CENTRAL GEORGIA AND THE CSRA INC., AT (800) 763-4222 OR WWW.BBB.ORG.


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