BBB National Programs Archive

CARU Recommends HarperCollins Modify Website to Better Protect Children’s Privacy; Company Agrees to Do So

New York, NY – Feb. 13, 2014 – The Children’s Advertising Review Unit has recommended that the HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., take steps to better protect the privacy of children who visit the publisher’s website. The company has agreed to do so.

CARU is an investigative unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation. It is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

The site came to the attention of CARU through its routine monitoring of advertising directed to children. CARU was directed to the website through an advertisement in Discovery Girls magazine. CARU monitors websites for compliance with CARU’s Self-Regulatory Program for Children’s Advertising, including guidelines on Online Privacy Protection, as well as with the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA.)

The website is dedicated to the Ruby Redfort character, a 13 year-old girl detective.

Upon CARU’s initial review, visitors to the site were greeted by a screen that stated:

  •  “Wanna win some neat prizes, buster?
  •  Play Flycatcher for your chance to win Ruby Redfort goodies…
  •  Plus you will get a Ruby Redfort bookmark just for signing up! So what are you waiting for bozo?”

To sign up to enter and win prizes a visitor had to enter a username, email address, first and last name, and full street address and then choose from one of several options:

  •  I am over 16.
  •  I am under 16 and have permission from my parent or guardian to sign up to the Ruby Redfort website and enter the competition.
  •  I am under 16 but my parent does not know that I am signing up for this.
  •  Please send me the newsletter and other information about Ruby Redfort.
  •  We would like to let you know about other similar new titles by Harper Collins. If you’re happy for us to do so please tick the box.

CARU, in its decision, noted that it was “concerned that the website collected personally identifiable information from children under 13 from the United States without first obtaining verifiable parental consent.”

The company, in response to CARU’s inquiry, said it would take steps to ensure that the site is fully COPPA compliance and would implement a system for obtaining verifiable parental consent where required. In the interim, the company said, it would block the collection of personal information from children under 13 who are in the U.S.

HarperCollins, in its advertiser’s statement, said the company “shares CARU’s goal of ensuring children’s privacy online and are committed to protecting that privacy in our services. We welcomed this opportunity to work with CARU on its self-regulatory program.”