Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Neopets Pops Up in House of Commons

This past November (29, 2006), as part of the PIPEDA (Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act) hearings, Valerie Steeves (Assistant Professor in Criminology at the University of Ottawa) gave testimony before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics on the unethical market research practices going on in popular children's websites, including Neopets.com. She highlighted the covert nature of the site's research activities, focusing mainly on the polls and surveys that feature prominently within the site, as well as the site's failure to adequately inform kids or parents about the nature and extent of their data collection and its subsequent usage. She has recommended a number of revisions be made to the PIPEDA, to better account for emerging business practices and to provide more extensive and specific protection for online privacy rights. Tara Berish, a law student articling with the CIPPIC, summarizes Steeves' recommendations as follows:
1) Principle 4.3.2 – Make it clear to companies that they must explain what they will do with personal information on or before a person consents to its collection;
2) Clarify guidelines with respect to types of consent (express, implied, opt-out etc.);
3) Privacy policies need to be fixed – require that they be written in plain language;
4) Require specific definitions of the purposes of collection;
5) s. 5(3) should state that the purposes should be reasonable to the consumer;
6) Principle 4.3.3. – Make it clear that a business can only refuse to deal when the information in question is necessary to the completion of the transaction at hand;
7) Amend s. 3 to state that privacy is a human right, and a social and democratic value. It should outweigh the business practices when they are in conflict.

It's great to see someone else using Neopets to highlight the current inadequacies of PIPEDA and the existing regulatory framework, though I'm a bit disturbed that I haven't come across Steeves' work before now. Better late than never, I suppose. Anyway, here's a link to a publication Steeves co-authored with Ian Kerr (CRC in Ethics, Law and Technology at UofO) that appeared in the Canadian Journal of Law and Technology, as well as some additional coverage of the hearings.

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