Sketchville: TMI choices with youth media

Okay– as previously reported, I’ve been to Buildabearville. The sign-in was relatively straight forward and safety-friendly, and all online interactions proved to be great…

HOWEVER, I found this wee gem today about an IN-the-STORE Build-a-bear buyer’s safety spot:

You see, each Build-A-Bear critter is issued a “birth certificate,” which is generated after the kids — and hopefully their parents, though that didn’t seem to be making a bit of difference on the common sense front — visit a bank of computers. These are big orangey-purple affairs, sort of Dr. Seussian in presentation. The keyboard buttons include stars and other colored shapes to make data input all the easier and more intuitive for youngsters. In fact, the computer-plus-keyboard experience is very close (no doubt intentionally so) to something children and their parents might have experienced in a kids’ museum, library, or school. Before their new friend can get its birth certificate, the kids are prompted to enter a host of very personal personal information: birth date, home address, gender, phone, and email among them. Along the way is the option to “skip” some of this input, but unlike what we’re used to in the world of online retail forms, there’s no effort to communicate what data is “required” for the transaction to proceed, and what’s “optional.” The overall effect is to sideline the privacy-savviness that might otherwise accompany the parent and/or child. I sat there and watched parent after parent prompt their kids to flex their memory muscles and practice their computer skills: “Ok Timmy, now, what’s our address? What’s your birthday? Do you remember our phone number? Good typing!!”

It’s not until after the kids have given up all this data, most often with their parents help and lulled consent (though there’s no requirement that parents participate at all), that Build-A-Bear gives its customers a copy of its privacy policy, which comes tucked away in the packaging folks take home.

I really don’t have any problem with Build-A-Bear’s privacy policy, or the tie-ins with the virtual world (Build-A-Bearville) the company hopes your child will visit with his or her new stuffed friend. But though the policy looks good on paper, this is a case where the execution stinks. Parents and kids should not be urged or encouraged to give up personal data, and when they’re asked to do so there should be some up-front reminders as to what is happening.

» Harvesting data from children with cuddly creatures and cutesy keyboards | Lawgarithms | ZDNet.com

Ya know… people forget about the kind of information they share about their kids.

There’s a particular site for Anne Of Green Gables, called Anne’s Diary, that was brought to my attention two weeks ago. The site keeps your kids’ private information OFF the computer– which begs the question… where are you keeping the information? How are you keeping it (locked)? Why are you keeping it offline? And further more… why are you asking for my child’s thumb print? Because, yes, aside from all the information provided, they ask for fingerprints. Wha-what? No, no– it gets better. The site invites girls to write in an online journal. So let’s think about that again: 1. takes private info, 2. takes thumb prints, 3. encourages girls to write in their secret online diary, 4. keeps private info offline because online isn’t safe, but keeps private thoughts online.

Something doesn’t add up.

When I first heard about this– i thought maybe the site was working with the Canadian government to promote Kid ID’s and safety. But, sadly, they weren’t (or at least I was informed that they were not).

There is really no need whatsoever to collect so much information from a child. Period. I get the whole “marketing” thing, but still… zoinks.

I honestly would like to believe that the folks behind Anne’s Diary aren’t shadesters, and actually have misguided strategies for encouraging membership and keeping parents feeling safe. It seems like they have the best intentions for trying to make things “seem” safe and for creating such an exclusive “diary” environment. Overall, my gut kinda twists and a large cartoony question mark appears in my cloud bubble brain.

Fingers crossed for ‘em. Same with Build-A-Bear’s in-store marketing-initiative.

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  1. January 23, 2008 at 3:24 pm

    This is totally terrifying, but not all together surprising. While I too get the marketing benefits of data collection, I don’t see why companies need to grab personally identifiable and potentially dangerous data like home address, phone, etc. I suspect the companies don’t either, but are harvesting this info for some future, as yet un-thought of marketing initiative for the future.

    What I find truly terrifying in this is the conditioning of children and parents to accept a more invasive stance from corporations, as Cory D points out. It’s all seems harmless now and the companies are quick to sooth our concerns, but it definitely demands questioning and resistance from parents and non-parents like myself. Taking a stand or question on these issues is still seen as odd by many. This view needs to be shifted if users are to negotiate a viable position in these new spaces.

    Thanks for pointing this one out Izzy – and thanks for the meme tag. It’s been duly answered and passed along to other unsuspecting bloggers. :)

  2. Renae
    February 26, 2008 at 2:28 am

    While I do see your point about the things they could do with the information they are collecting, their stated reasons do make sense to me. The address goes into their data base with the scanned info about the ‘furry friend’. Before they stuff the animal they put a scan tag in it so that if the animal is lost and it’s returned to a BuildaBear location, they can figure out who it belongs to and mail it home. At least, this is what I was told in the store. Now, how many people, upon finding a lost stuffed animal to the store is a whole other issue.

  1. January 27, 2008 at 1:04 am

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