Sep 302009
 
 September 30, 2009  Posted by  Business, Featured News, Online, Youth & Schools

EPIC filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission against Echometrix, the developers of parental control software that monitors children’s online activity. Echometrix analyzes the information collected from children and sells the data to third parties for market-intelligence research. The EPIC complaint alleges that Echometrix engages in unfair and deceptive trade practices by representing that the software protects children online while simultaneously collecting and disclosing information about children’s online activity. The complaint further alleges that Echometrix’s practices violate the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act by collecting and disclosing information from children under the age of 13. The EPIC complaint asks the FTC to stop these practices, seek compensation for victims, and ensure that Echometrix’s collection and disclosure practices comply with COPPA.

Source:  EPIC.org

From the complaint:

Echometrix, Inc., formerly SearchHelp Inc., develops software that allegedly provides parents with “real-time online protection of their children.” Echometrix brands include FamilySafe Parental Control products  (www.familysafesolutions.net) and Sentry Parental Control products (www.sentryparentalcontrol.com). Echometrix also offers technology to corporations seeking to analyze children’s online behavior. The technology is called PULSE, a software engine that reads and analyzes digital content extracted from online conversations and activity of teenagers and children in real time. The software is available through subscription at Echometrix’s website.

[…]

Sentry’s privacy policy is virtually inaccessible – it is displayed only after clicking the SUPPORT heading, then the POLICIES link, and finally PRIVACY POLICY. The privacy policy allows parents to “delete” their child’s account, but admits that all of the child’s information may not be deleted from Sentry’s records. A screenshot of the YOUR ABILITY TO EDIT AND DELETE YOUR ACCOUNT INFORMATION AND PREFERENCES – CHILDREN section of the privacy policy is captured below […]

[…]

The practice of surreptitiously collecting sensitive information from children and simultaneously disclosing this information to third parties for marketing purposes is unfair because these claims cause a substantial harm, not outweighed by any countervailing benefits, which consumers cannot reasonably avoid. In Sentry Parental Control’s privacy policy, which is not readily accessible, SearchHelp, Inc. (now Echometrix) claims that information collected from children is not disclosed to third parties. However, Echometrix’s other brand of products, PULSE, boasts of having access to the teenage market in real-time by capturing instant message conversations, chat room conversations, and blog posts.

FamilySafe Parental Control’s website does not have a link to a privacy policy on its homepage, and access to the Sentry Parental Controls’ privacy policy is only achieved through multiple steps. Echometrix’s website provides an incomplete privacy policy, which does not fully disclose how children’s information is used and offers contradictory information as to what kind of information is collected.

The full complaint is available here (pdf).

Echometrix did not reply to e-mail requests for a statement reacting to the complaint by the time of this publication.

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