Quickhit: Your kids’ ‘secure’ online chats being sold to marketers

Creepy privacy invasion of the day:

Web-monitoring software reads kids’ private messages and sells data to advertisers

“Parents who install a leading brand of software to monitor their kids’ online activities may be unwittingly allowing the company to read their children’s chat messages — and sell the marketing data gathered.

Software sold under the Sentry and FamilySafe brands can read private chats conducted through Yahoo, MSN, AOL and other services, and send back data on what kids are saying about such things as movies, music or video games. The information is then offered to businesses seeking ways to tailor their marketing messages to kids.[…]

The software brands in question are developed by EchoMetrix Inc., a company based in Syosset, N.Y.

In June, EchoMetrix unveiled a separate data-mining service called Pulse that taps into the data gathered by Sentry software to give businesses a glimpse of youth chatter online. While other services read publicly available teen chatter, Pulse also can read private chats. It gathers information from instant messages, blogs, social networking sites, forums and chat rooms.

EchoMetrix CEO Jeff Greene said the company complies with U.S. privacy laws and does not collect any identifiable information.

“We never know the name of the kid — it’s bobby37 on the house computer,” Greene said.

What Pulse will reveal is how “bobby37″ and other teens feel about upcoming movies, computer games or clothing trends. Such information can help advertisers craft their marketing messages as buzz builds about a product.”

Categories: ethics & philosophy, technology

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5 replies

  1. hmm
    of course they never know the name of “the kid” just the IP address so they can tailor advertisments to “the kids” pc.
    IP address will get you to the country, state and probably suburb

  2. I wonder if this started as something used by law enforcement to help track peds grooming kids online and then someone decided they could make money out of it?

  3. You know, I read this and couldn’t work out whether I thought it was more creepy that marketers were using this information, or that parents are eavesdropping on their kids’ chats…
    I would have been furious had my parents listened in on my phone calls or read my diary, and this software strikes me as exactly the same thing (and I know, there are dangers online that there aren’t with diaries or the phone, but there are other ways of dealing those dangers than violating children’s privacy)

  4. Rebekka: Eavesdropping is a clandestine process. It depends on the kid, and what transaction has taken place with the parent. My kid, who is not yet seven, knows darn well that I have screen sharing software and can see (and control) his computer screen. He’s not chatting online yet (I expect he will be soon), but he does have email, which I’ve locked down so that I pre-screen all emails from non trusted senders. We’ll negotiate online privacy when the time comes, but we’re nowhere near that time yet.
    Would I monitor the chats of a 16 year old? No. A six year old? Yes. And there’s a whole gradation in between. He can keep a private diary if he wants, he can talk privately with friends who I know, but he can’t chat privately with random people online.
    Parents should be able to trust that any security software they put on their kids’ computer leaves the chats between them and their kid, not between them, their kid, and any of hundreds of marketers (and who knows who else).

  5. Lauredhel, yes I absolutely agree that children should not be left to chat with random people online, and indeed that you should be able to trust the software you install not to be on-selling information.
    I think, however, that there are better ways of achieving this than reading their chats – a system where a parent can approve new contacts and they can only chat with approved contacts perhaps.

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