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Connected kids have internet privacy rights, too

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — If you have a child or grandchild with an electronic device, you should know about rules regarding children’s online privacy.

Apps, websites and online services directed to kids younger than 13 years old must get a parent’s approval before they can collect, use or disclose the youths’ personal information, according to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

In its first children’s privacy case involving Internet-connected toys, an electronic toy manufacturer and its U.S. subsidiary have agreed to pay $650,000 to settle a case with the Federal Trade Commission involving alleged violations of the act.

The FTC said VTech Electronics Limited of Hong Kong failed to obtain parental consent before collecting personal data from children using its toys. VTech describes itself as “the global leader in electronic learning products from infancy through toddler and preschool.”

Here’s the scary part: A cyberattack in 2015 exposed the name, gender, birth date and other personal data for about 6.4 million youngsters who used subsidiary companies’ interactive easels, online games, electronic tablets and other digital products marketed for children of ages 3 to 9, according to USA Today. That’s what prompted the federal government to open an investigation.

The FTC complaint accused VTech of gathering the data on its Learning Lodge Navigator online platform, where VTech’s Kid Connect app was available for downloads. About 2.25 million parents had registered and created accounts with Learning Lodge for nearly 3 million children, as of November 2015, the FTC said. Kid Connect allows the young app users to communicate with each other.

Sales of smart toys are on the rise, with projected revenues of $15.5 billion by 2022, according to the FTC.

“As connected toys become increasingly popular, it’s more important than ever that companies let parents know how their kids’ data is collected and used and that they take reasonable steps to secure that data,” Acting FTC Chairwoman Maureen K. Ohlhausen said.

VTech released a statement saying it has updated its security practices.

Advice from the FTC:

• Websites and apps that target kids must have a privacy policy that should be easy to find and understand. If you can’t find it or it’s not clear to you what the app or website will do with your kid’s information, don’t let your child use it. The operator of the site or app may be violating the children’s privacy act.

• If a website or app that targets children wants to collect your kid’s personal information, they need to get your approval. If you think a website or app has collected such information without your authorization, report it to the FTC.

• • •

For those who have resolved to shed a few pounds in this new year, beware the weight-loss scam, says the state’s attorney general.

These can involve advertisements to lose weight through “pills, regimes, diets and exercise machines that promise miraculous and unrealistic results,” says a scam alert from AG Hector Balderas.

“Almost without exception, these promises are at best misleading, and at worst completely false,” the alert said.

Here are some things to watch for:

• Claims that you can reduce without diet or exercise. When in doubt, consult your physician or other provider.

• Ads that use descriptions like “miracle,” “revolutionary,” “secret,” “guaranteed results” and “scientific breakthrough.”

• Promises of losing a specific number of pounds in a specific number of days. No product or plan can guarantee such detailed results; everyone is different, the AG alert says.

• Claims that you can burn fat while you sleep and/or by wearing or rubbing on a product. According to the Mayo Clinic, weight loss is an internal metabolic process and no patch, lotion, etc. can accelerate that process or eliminate fat in specific areas.

• Promises of “permanent” weight loss.

Ellen Marks is assistant business editor at the Albuquerque Journal. Contact her at emarks@abqjournal.com or 505-823-3842 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-844-255-9210.

 

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