CDD

Press Releases

  • U.S. companies should adopt the same data protection rules that are poised to go into effect in the European Union on May 25, Public Citizen, the Center for Digital Democracy and Privacy International said today.
  • In an open letter to Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckkerberg, members of the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue urge the company "to confirm your company’s commitment to global compliance with the GDPR".
  • Press Release

    Advocates Say Google’s YouTube Violates Federal Children’s Privacy Law

    Consumer, privacy and children’s groups file complaint urging FTC to stop most popular kids’ online video service from gathering children’s data

    WASHINGTON, DC—April 9, 2018—Today, a coalition of leading U.S. child advocacy, consumer, and privacy groups represented by the Institute for Public Representation filed a complaint (link is external) urging the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate and sanction Google for violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in operating YouTube. Google claims that YouTube is only for users 13 and up, despite being the most popular online platform for children, used by 80% of American children ages 6 to 12. The site features many programs designed and promoted for children and Google generates significant profits from kid-targeted advertising. The complaint says the FTC should subject Google to penalties, which could total in the billions of dollars. The Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), and 21 other organizations demonstrated in their filing that Google, which owns YouTube, makes substantial profits collecting many types of personal information on kids on YouTube, including geolocation, unique device identifiers, mobile telephone numbers, and persistent identifiers used to recognize a user over time and across different websites or online services. Google collects this information without first providing direct notice to parents and obtaining their consent, and Google uses it to target advertisements to kids across the internet, including across devices. COPPA bars the operator of a website directed to children, or that has knowledge of children using it, from collecting and using such information without obtaining parental consent. CCFC’s Executive Director Josh Golin said, “For years, Google has abdicated its responsibility to kids and families by disingenuously claiming YouTube—a site rife with popular cartoons, nursery rhymes, and toy ads—is not for children under thirteen. Google profits immensely by delivering ads to kids and must comply with COPPA. It’s time for the FTC to hold Google accountable for its illegal data collection and advertising practices.” Child directed channels such as ChuChuTV Nursery Rhymes & Kids Songs (15.9 million subscribers and over 10 billion channel views) and LittleBabyBum (14.6 million subscribers and over 14 billion channel views) are among the most popular channels on YouTube. Major advertisers pay Google a premium to place their ads in a platform known as “Google Preferred,” which includes a “Parenting and Family” lineup comprised mostly of popular channels targeted to children. “Google has acted duplicitously by falsely claiming in its terms of service that YouTube is only for those who are age 13 or older, while it deliberately lured young people into an ad-filled digital playground,” said Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy. “Just like Facebook, Google has focused its huge resources on generating profits instead of protecting privacy.” Angela J. Campbell, counsel for CCFC and CDD, said: “Given the large number of children affected and the extent of YouTube’s COPPA violations, the FTC needs to impose large civil penalties to show it is serious about protecting children’s privacy online.” James P. Steyer, CEO of Common Sense, said: "Kids have been watching videos on YouTube for years, something the company has known, and profited off of, by targeting content and ads at children under 13. It is time for Google to be completely transparent with all the facts and institute fundamentally responsible new policies moving forward to protect the privacy of kids. We fully expect Google to work closely with advocates and reach out to parents with information about parental controls, content, and collection practices on YouTube so parents can make informed choices about what content they allow their kids to access and how to protect their privacy.” Katie McInnis, policy counsel for Consumers Union, said: “YouTube knows children are watching content on their site, and has created content channels specifically aimed at them, but does not appear to obtain the required parental consent before collecting information about them. Google has the responsibility to be COPPA-compliant and ensure that children can safely watch the programs designed and promoted for kids. These practices present serious concerns that warrant the FTC’s attention.” Groups signing on to the complaint to the FTC along with CDD and CCFC are: Berkeley Media Studies Group; Center for Media Justice; Common Sense; Consumer Action; Consumer Federation of America; Consumer Federation of California; Consumers Union, the advocacy division of Consumer Reports; Consumer Watchdog; Corporate Accountability; Defending the Early Years; Electronic Privacy Information Center (“EPIC”); New Dream; Obligation, Inc.; Parent Coalition for Student Privacy; Parents Across America; Parents Television Council; Privacy Rights Clearinghouse; Public Citizen; The Story of Stuff Project; TRUCE (Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Childhood Entertainment); and USPIRG. The complaint was drafted by the Communications & Technology Law Clinic in the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University Law Center. ###
  • In a statement issued today, CDD, EPIC and a coalition of consumer groups have called on the Federal Trade Commission to determine whether Facebook violated a 2011 Consent Order (link is external) when it facilitated the transfer of personal data of 50 million Facebook users to the data mining firm Cambridge Analytica. The groups had repeatedly urged (link is external) the FTC to enforce its own legal judgements. "The FTC's failure to act imperils not only privacy but democracy as well," the groups warned.
  • Broadcasters want to kill one of their only few public interest obligations: to air at least 3 hours of educational children’s programming a week. The FCC is engaged in another outrageous form of digital highway robbery—to steal from kids in order to allow TV giants to make even more profits from shows filled with commercials. Broadcasters now earn billions of dollars from their free public license to transit television—including getting access to invaluable cable TV channels. They are supposed to serve as a “Trustee” of the airwaves—not video programming bandits. Without their 3 hour kidvid requirement, broadcasters will able to reap the financial rewards without any real payback to the public. Millions of kids in the U.S. live in homes that can’t afford cable or broadband. Kidvid programming plays an important role providing access to some quality content for these children. The Pai FCC—as it’s done by killing network neutrality—is engaged in a slash and burn campaign when it comes to much needed public interest consumer protections for media. We will vigorously fight this cynical and harmful move by the FCC to place the interests of the TV lobby ahead of America’s children. CDD helped lobby in the 3-hour rule in the 1990s and plans to work with allies, such as Sen Ed Markey, to protect the interests of parents and children.
    Jeff Chester
  • The phone and cable lobby will use its new power over the Internet to further erode the privacy rights of Americans. Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon will be entirely free to tap into the data flowing from our mobile devices, PCs, gaming and streaming platforms and set-top boxes. These ISP giants have already built up a formidable (link is external) commercial data gathering and Big Data analytics infrastructure. Now they will expand their gathering of our personal information, inc. financial, health, media use, and also force competitors to share the data they collect. If you want ISPs to give you preferential treatment, content providers will be forced to give up your data, so phone and cable can further expand their ad revenues. Independent and small content companies—including non-commercial and diversely-owned services—will be pressed to consent to terms that favor the digital gatekeepers that control our broadband highway. The FCC’s Net Neutrality decision will trigger a powerful wave of consolidation and deal making that further reduces the range of content and services we should expect in the 21st Century (including for children). We also believe that Google, Facebook and other providers will likely make their peace with the big ISPs, creating a powerful alliance that controls the U.S.’s digital destiny. CDD will be a part of the collaborative work to address this. We urge everyone to also “follow the data” as they examine the digital marketing plans of Verizon, Comcast and AT&T (link is external). There they will find plenty of opportunity to educate the public about our digital future has been placed at great risk.
    Jeff Chester
  • Statement of Kathryn C Montgomery, Ph.D. Professor, School of Communication, American University Senior Consultant, Center for Digital Democracy December 4, 2017 In its first formal move to enter the children’s digital marketplace, Facebook has taken a responsible approach to this sensitive age group. It has created a “walled garden” messenger service designed exclusively for younger children; established strong parental controls; kept the service free of advertising; and restricted the use of many data collection and targeting practices that are employed routinely in its other services. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) – which we helped pass in 1998, and which was updated in 2012 – has established a strong framework for protecting children 12 and under from unfair data collection and targeting. However, additional safeguards are necessary to protect young people from powerful new forms of commercial surveillance in the Big Data and Internet-of-things era. By designing an ad-free and safe environment for children, Facebook is playing a leadership role in developing responsible corporate practices that could be the basis for industry-wide guidelines. But it is too early to understand fully how young people’s engagement with this new generation of digital interactive platforms will impact their psychosocial development. All stakeholders—including health professionals, educators, scholars, advocates, policymakers, and corporations — will need to monitor very closely how these services evolve. ---
  • The Center for Digital Democracy calls on the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to hold hearings examining the role that the Internet and related digital data applications now play in federal political campaigns. The public needs a better understanding of how contemporary digital practices in the “Big Data” era affect our electoral system. CDD also urges the FEC to begin a rulemaking to revise its regulations concerning disclaimers so the public has appropriate access to information regarding the operations of online ads and related content. “The FEC must hold hearings to examine how, in this era of “Big Data” and personalized digital marketing, the unrestricted use of consumer information for political targeting may threaten our democratic process,” said Katharina Kopp, policy director of the Center for Digital Democracy. “Political campaigns now have access to an array of details on individuals that wasn’t previously available, including what they do online and offline. As we witnessed last year, this new capability can be used to engage in online suppression tactics to dissuade individuals and groups from voting. We urge the FEC to examine how digital data-driven campaigns may disenfranchise communities of color and economically at risk individuals." --- For more information, please see the attached media advisory and comment by the CDD.
  • WASHINGTON, DC – October 18, 2017—A number of brands of “smartwatches” intended to help parents monitor and protect young children have major security and privacy flaws which could endanger the children wearing them. A coalition of leading U.S. child advocacy, consumer, and privacy groups sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) today, asking the agency to investigate the threat these watches pose to children. Smartwatches for children essentially work as a wearable smartphone. Parents can communicate with their child through the mobile phone function and track the child’s location via an app. Some product listings recommend them for children as young as three years old. Groups sending the letter to the FTC are the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), the Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Public Citizen, and U.S. PIRG. The advocacy groups are working with the Norwegian Consumer Council (NCC), which conducted research (link is external) showing that watches sold in the U.S. under the brands Caref and SeTracker have significant security flaws, unreliable safety features, and policies which lack consumer privacy protections. In the EU, groups are filing complaints in Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, the UK, and with other European regulators. “By preying upon parents’ desire to keep children safe and, these smart watches are actually putting kids in danger,” said CCFC’s Executive Director Josh Golin. “Once again, we see Internet of Things products for kids being rushed to market with no regard for how they will protect children’s sensitive information. Parents should avoid these watches and all internetconnected devices designed for kids.” The NCC’s research showed that with two of the watches, a stranger can take control of the watch with a few simple steps, allowing them to eavesdrop on conversations the child is having with others, track and communicate with the child, and access stored data about the child’s location. The data is transmitted and stored without encryption. The watches are also unreliable: a geo-fencing feature meant to notify parents when a child leaves a specified area, as well as an “SOS” function alerting parents when a child is in distress, simply do not work. The manufacturers’ data practices also put children at risk. Some devices have no privacy policies at all, and the policies that do exist lack basic consumer protections, including seeking consent for data collection, notifying users of changes in terms, and allowing users to delete stored data. "The Trump Administration and the Congress must bring America’s consumer product safety rules into the 21st century,” said Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy. “In the rush to make money off of kids’ connected digital devices, manufacturers and retailers are failing to ensure these products are truly safe. In today’s connected world that means protecting the privacy and security of the consumer—especially of children. Both the FTC and the Consumer Product Safety Commission must be given the power to regulate the rapidly growing Internet of Things marketplace.” The Caref (branded Gator in Europe) and SeTracker smartwatches are available online through Amazon. The groups have asked the FTC to act quickly to investigate these products, and they advise parents to refrain from buying the products because of the danger they could pose to children. The NCC, which conducted the testing of the watches, advises consumers who have already purchased the watches to stop using them and uninstall the app. “The Federal Trade Commission must be proactive in protecting consumers—especially vulnerable young children—from harmful products that abuse technology for the sake of profit,” said Kristen Strader, Campaign Coordinator for Public Citizen. “Smartwatches and similar devices must be absolutely safe and secure before they are released to the public for sale.” Ed Mierzwinski, Consumer Program Director at U.S. PIRG, said, "Companies making any internet-connected devices, but especially for children, need to ensure that privacy and security are more than breakable — or worse, hackable — promises." Katie McInnis, technology policy counsel for Consumers Union, said, “When a company sells a smartwatch aimed at children, it must ensure the product is safe and secure. The FTC should launch an investigation into the privacy and security concerns surrounding these products to make sure families are safe.” The same trans-Atlantic coalition persuaded government authorities and retailers last December (link is external) that the internet-connected dolls Cayla and i-Que Robot were spying on children and threatening their welfare, and retailers removed the toys from store shelves. The FBI subsequently issued a warning to consumers (link is external) that internet-connected toys could put the privacy and safety of children at risk. --- For more information, please see the following: Letter to FTC by coalition of leading U.S. child advocacy, consumer, and privacy groups (link below) Press Release by US coalition of leading U.S. child advocacy, consumer and privacy groups (link below) #WatchOut Report by Norwegian Consumer Council (link below) Press Release by Norwegian Consumer Council (link below) #WatchOut English - YouTube (http://bit.ly/2ghNoD1 (link is external)) #WatchOut - longer video explainer on security flaws 4:30 mins - YouTube (http://bit.ly/2xLYSVv (link is external))
    Jeff Chester
  • Press Release

    Advocates Call on FCC to Protect Programming and Advertising Safeguards for Children's TV

    Commission Must Reject TV Industry Proposal to Undermine Public Interest Obligations

    WASHINGTON, D.C. – Advocates called today on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reject an effort by major media companies to eliminate or weaken important rules for children’s television. The National Association of Broadcasters, Internet and Television Association (NCTA), CBS, Disney, Fox, Univision, and others have asked the FCC to significantly reduce advertising limits on children’s programming. Industry commenters also urged the FCC to reconsider rules that require broadcasters to provide quality educational programming as part of their obligation to serve the public interest. In comments filed today, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for Digital Democracy called on the FCC to reject industry proposals to repeal or modify the current rules. “The Trump Administration and the FCC should stand up for the rights of children and parents and reject this crass campaign by the broadcast lobby,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. “The broadcast industry receives billions of dollars in benefits from its free use of public resources, including invaluable rights to the airwaves. It is unconscionable that TV stations and networks want to kill off one of their few remaining obligations to the public.” In April, the FCC issued a public notice on its “Modernization of Media Regulation Initiative,” asking for suggestions about which of the FCC’s media-related rules should be modified or repealed. Media companies replied with a deregulation wish list that would allow them to use kids’ television programming to market directly to children. The major networks urged the FCC to relax its rules prohibiting product integration and product placement on kids’ shows, arguing that YouTube and other child-directed online services are not subject to those restrictions. Advocates responded by pointing out that internet and mobile providers are simply ignoring longstanding children’s media principles, which are based on child development, and that a lack of online regulation is not a good reason for the FCC to eliminate important safeguards for the millions of children who watch traditional TV. “It is extremely disappointing that broadcasters want to join the race to the bottom when it comes to exploiting children’s developmental vulnerabilities for profit,” said Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. “Media companies want to gut longstanding safeguards because young people an incredibly lucrative market for advertisers. But research demonstrates that children are particularly vulnerable to marketing and benefit from rules that require ad limits and separation of programming and commercial content.” Advocates also oppose a request by the Internet and Television Association to repeal an FCC rule known as the “website display rule.” The FCC adopted this rule in 2004 to prohibit advertisers from engaging in “host-selling” to children, which the transition to digital broadcasting could otherwise allow. Angela J. Campbell, director of the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown and counsel to some of the advocates, called the effort to repeal this rule disingenuous. “The media companies say the website display rule is unnecessary because television has rarely been used to interact and target advertising to children,” she said. “But at the same time, these companies engaging in a practice known as ‘programmatic marketing,’ which offers advertisers the ability to target ads to specific viewers of cable and broadcast television programming.” In addition, advocates oppose efforts by media companies to be relieved of their public interest obligation to provide educational programming for children, and to produce public reports to help the FCC determine whether that programming meets the obligations laid out in the Children’s Television Act. “The television industry made a commitment to serve the nation’s children by providing quality educational programs,” explained Professor Kathryn Montgomery of American University, who led the effort to strengthen the FCC’s rules on the Children’s Television Act. “However, broadcasters failed to live up to these minimal obligations and the FCC has been irresponsible in allowing the industry to evade one of its only remaining public interest requirements. Rather than considering elimination of these rules, the FCC (and Congress) should conduct an investigation into TV programming and advertising practices directed at children.” ---- The comments can be read via the attached PDF file below.
  • The Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), a leading US NGO specializing in consumer data protection issues in the digital marketplace, is pleased to respond to the request that we provide information applicable to first annual review of the EUUS Privacy Shield. CDD has been assessing the Privacy Shield since it came into force in 2016, in part as a result of its work coordinating the activities from the US side of the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD) working group on the Information Society. EU citizens and consumers who deal with companies enrolled in the Privacy Shield program confront a serious erosion of their data protection and privacy rights. The rights of EU citizens under the Privacy Shield program are not equivalent to how they would be protected by EU law. We urge the Commission and EU Data Protection Authorities to suspend the Privacy Shield in light of its lack of any policies, rules, or enforcement that would provide meaningful adequacy or equivalency. The Commission should insist that U.S. companies targeting EU citizens or consumers must operate under the forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) framework. For this submission, we reviewed the activities of several major U.S. companies enrolled in the Privacy Shield program, examining their submissions on the U.S. Commerce Department website (including descriptions of their activities, the link to and content of their privacy policy statements). We compared these statements to the actual data collection and use-related activities conducted by the companies, including their own descriptions of how they operationalize their business goals. We supplemented this analysis with the information that CDD extensively gathers on the commercial digital marketplace, such as automated “programmatic” decision making and other contemporary consumer-directed applications. --- For the full PDF of the letter, see attachment in link below.
  • Public Knowledge joined by the Consumer Federation of America, the Center For Digital Democracy, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of California, and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse writes a letter urging the Federal Trade Commission Acting Chairman, Maureen Ohlhausen, to protect consumer privacy. The letter is asking the FTC Chairwoman to publicly and expeditiously resolve a pending complaint concerning cable TV and satellite TV privacy. --- June 12, 2017 Maureen Ohlhausen Acting Chairman Federal Trade Commission 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20580 Dear Acting Chairman Ohlhausen: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has long protected consumer privacy, in tandem with other agencies, and you recently reiterated your dedication to protecting consumer privacy in the digital age through FTC enforcement. We therefore urge the FTC to quickly resolve the complaint filed one year ago by a coalition of consumer advocates. The complaint provides evidence that the nation’s cable and satellite providers have and continue to deceive consumers about their privacy practices by failing to provide adequate notice, in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act. Since the complaint was filed, leading Internet Service Providers, cable and telephone companies have significantly expanded their ability to gather, analyze and make actionable data that is used to target subscribers, their families, and other consumers. --- See the link below for the full PDF of the complaint.
  • The Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) and Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), by their attorneys, the Institute for Public Representation, respond to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC or the Commission) request for comment on proposed changes to TRUSTe’s COPPA Safe Harbor program. TRUSTe has sought approval of changes to its COPPA Safe Harbor program that it states are necessary to comply with an Assurance of Discontinuance it recently entered into with the New York Attorney General’s Office (NYAG). While the proposed changes themselves do not appear objectionable, the facts leading up to this proposal strongly suggest that TRUSTe has violated its 2015 Consent Decree with the FTC by misrepresenting its practices for assessing operators of child-directed online services (Operators). CDD and CCFC ask the FTC to conduct an investigation of TRUSTe to determine if it has in fact violated the Consent Decree, and if so, to take all available enforcement action against TRUSTe. Further, to protect the privacy of children pending the outcome of the investigation, they ask the FTC to suspend TRUSTe’s COPPA Safe Harbor program. (Link to the full report attached below.)
  • The Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) and the U.S Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG) filed comments today in response to the Treasury Department’s request for information (RFI) on “Expanding Access to Credit through Online Marketplace Lending.” Specifically, the department sought public comment on (1) the various business models of and products offered by online marketplace lenders to small businesses and consumers; (2) the potential for online marketplace lending to expand access to credit to historically underserved market segments; and (3) how the financial regulatory framework should evolve to support the safe growth of this industry.”CDD/USPIRG’s detailed comments cautioned that “the ‘technology-enabled credit provisioning’ marketplace should not be uncritically viewed as a panacea, especially for financially underserved and economically at-risk Americans.” Rather than giving online lenders special treatment, in fact, the filing calls on the Department of the Treasury “to work with other agencies to propose or implement rules that integrate the online lending sector within the financial services regulatory sector.” Pointing out that instead of “being a new source that can support the needs of low-income or underbanked consumers,” the majority of online loans are actually going to “consumers who already have ‘prime’ ratings.” CDD and USPIRG believe that the entire financial services sector—and its use of Big Data to assess and “score” consumers—warrants closer regulatory scrutiny.“Marketplace lending should be regulated by prudential and consumer protection regulators in the same way that other financial services are,” the filing concludes, “with CFPB authority where appropriate for banks and non-banks and meaningful consumer and prudential supervision by other responsible regulators. Certainly, the lessons of 2008 provide a strong warning against allowing an under-regulated, shadow banking system to grow and pose risks to the financial system, its safety net, or the overall economy.”
  • CDD, U.S. PIRG, Consumer Watchdog, and World Privacy Forum call on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate interactive marketing of pharmaceutical and health products and services to consumers and health professionals. Action is required to protect consumers, including their privacy, in the online health and medical marketplace. The FTC has a role to play to help the Food and Drug Administration address new threats. Read the press release below for details…