National Poll: Three Out of Four Parents Say Social Networks Aren't Protecting Kids' Online Privacy

Common Sense Media Calls for Industry: “Do Not Track Kids”; Help Parents Protect Kids’ Privacy; No Geolocation without Parental Opt-In

Common Sense Media
Friday, October 8, 2010

Washington, DC – Common Sense Media, the national nonprofit organization dedicated to helping kids and families thrive in a world of media and technology, today released the results of a nationwide poll of parents and teens revealing that three out of four parents say that social networks aren't doing a good job of protecting kids' online privacy. The poll finds that 92 percent of parents are concerned that kids share too much information online, and 85 percent of parents say they're more concerned about online privacy than they were five years ago. The Zogby International poll also finds that 91 percent of parents think that search engines and social networking sites should not be able to share kids' physical location with other companies until parents give authorization.

"The poll results present a clear divide between the industry's view of privacy and the opinion of parents and kids. American families are deeply worried about how their personal information is being used by technology and online companies, yet the companies appear to be keeping their heads deep in the sand," said James Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media. "We are all responsible for addressing this enormous challenge: The industry has to listen to what parents are saying, openly acknowledge the problem and accept an "opt-in" policy for kids. Parents and kids have to educate themselves about how to protect their information. Schools should teach all students and their parents about privacy protection. And finally, policymakers have to update privacy policies for the 21st century. For example, we need a ‘Do Not Track Kids' approach similar to the ‘Do Not Call' policies that restrict telemarketers."

At a roundtable discussion today about the parent and teen poll with Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, and Deputy Secretary of Education Anthony Miller, Common Sense Media announced the launch of a comprehensive campaign to help families protect kids' personal information and reputations online. The Common Sense Privacy Campaign will include the distribution of consumer tips, information, and videos to millions of homes and a new privacy curriculum for teachers and schools around the country. The campaign will challenge technology companies and operators to develop far better policies that make it easier for parents and kids to protect personal information online and will also ensure that parents' and kids' voices are being heard in Washington, D.C., through a national awareness and advocacy campaign.

According to a recent study by The Wall Street Journal, 50 of the most popular U.S. websites are placing intrusive tracking technologies on visitors' computers — in some cases, more than 100 tracking tools at a time. Fifty sites popular with U.S. teens and children placed 4,123 "cookies," "beacons," and other tracking technologies on their sites –– 30 percent more than similar sites aimed at adults. Tracking technology scans in real time what people are doing on a webpage, then instantly assesses location, income, shopping interests, and even medical conditions. Individuals' profiles are then bought and sold on stock-market-like exchanges that have sprung up in the past 18 months.

Congress' primary goal in creating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in 1998 was to help parents control the information that's collected from and about their children online and to control how that information is used. But today, extraordinary changes in technology and digital media have made it far more difficult for parents and young people to protect their privacy. The Zogby poll finds that more than 60 percent of parents want Congress to update online privacy laws for children and teens, and 70 percent of parents think schools should educate about online privacy.

"Parents want far more education and leadership about online privacy, and they clearly want the industry and the federal government to update privacy policies," Steyer said. "There are some common sense solutions to these problems, such as ‘opt-in' policies that require companies to let parents know how information will be used before it's collected and requiring companies to use short and simple privacy policies instead of confusing and dense policies that take hours to read. The industry should support ‘Do Not Track Kids' and should provide parents and kids the opportunity to clear their histories with an ‘eraser button.' Given the extraordinary concerns of parents, Common Sense Media has launched a campaign to educate parents and teachers and push for common sense solutions that will provide parents with the tools they need to protect their kids' online privacy."

The Common Sense Privacy Campaign sets forth six main goals:

  1. "Do Not Track Kids."
  2. The industry standard for all kids' privacy should be opt-in.
  3. Privacy statements should be clear and simple.
  4. Parents, teachers, and kids need to be educated about protecting privacy.
  5. Industry must innovate to protect kids and families.
  6. Government needs to update privacy policies for the 21st century.

For more information about the campaign, visit

About the Poll

Zogby International conducted the online poll of parents and teens; 2,100 adults were surveyed between Aug. 13 and Aug. 16, 2010, and 401 teenagers (ages 15-18) were surveyed between Aug. 18 and Aug. 20, 2010. Additional key findings from the poll include:

  • Three quarters of parents (75%) say they would rate the job that social networks are doing to protect children's online privacy as negative. In addition, a majority of parents (68%) say they're not at all confident in search engines keeping their private information safe and secure, and 71% of parents say they're not confident in social networking sites keeping their private information safe and secure.
  • A vast majority of parents (88%) say they would support a law that required online search engines and social networking services to get users' permission before they use personal information to market products – a scenario often called allowing users to "opt-in." A vast majority of teens (85%) say that online search engines and social networking services should be required to get permission before using personal information to market products to them.
  • Two-thirds of parents (67%) believe that their personal information is not secure and private online. A majority of teens say they don't feel their personal information is secure and private online or they're not sure if it is, while 44% say they think such information is secure.
  • Nearly all parents say they would take more time to read terms and conditions for websites if they were shorter and written in clear language. A vast majority of teens (85%) say they would take more time to read the terms and conditions for websites and other online services if they were shorter and written in clear language.
  • The vast majority of respondents say that search engines and online social networking sites should not be able to share their physical location with other companies before they have given specific authorization, while a strong majority of teens (81%) say the same.
  • Most parents (70%) say they think schools should play a role in educating students about protecting their privacy online. A majority of both adults and parents say they think Congress should update laws that relate to online privacy and security for children and teens.
  • 85% of parents say they're more concerned about online privacy than they were five years ago, and 69% of parents believe online privacy is a shared responsibility of individuals and online companies.
  • 79% of teens think their friends share too much personal information online.

To view the poll in its entirety and to learn more about the Common Sense Media privacy campaign, contact Marisa Connolly at 415-553-6703 or [email protected].

About Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media is dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in a world of media and technology. We exist because our kids are growing up in a culture that profoundly impacts their physical, social, and emotional well-being. We provide families with the advice and media reviews they need in order to make the best choices for their children. Through our education programs and policy efforts, Common Sense Media empowers parents, educators, and young people to become knowledgeable and responsible digital citizens. For more information, go to:

Press Contacts:    
Marisa Connolly
(415) 553-6703[email protected]