CARU in the 90s and 00s: Privacy & the Internet

May 22, 2024 by The Children's Advertising Review Unit

(Did you read about CARU in the 70s and 80s?)

The Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) Online Privacy Guidelines on protecting children’s data privacy online helped form the foundation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), enacted in 1998. Then, in 2001, CARU became the first FTC-approved COPPA Safe Harbor, helping companies achieve their business goals while ensuring compliance with COPPA. 

The arrival of Y2K brought with it an accelerated pivot from traditional advertising (TV/radio/print) to online advertising and experiences.

One of CARU’s early cases addressing data privacy challenges on a digital platform was CARU Case #3691, (September 2000), where CARU found the website violated both COPPA and CARU’s Privacy Guidelines because it did not disclose its privacy practices and obtain parental permission before collecting personally identifiable information, or PII (e.g., first and last name, email address, street address) from children under 13 years of age. 


In another similar case, December 2001 (CARU Case #3856), the AGIRLLIKEU.COM website was directed to teen and tween girls, offering interactive features without proper data collection protections. 

CARU’s Guidelines/COPPA require full disclosure of privacy practices and prior parental permission for PII collection when the website operator has a reasonable expectation that it is attracting children under the age of 13 (“if you are under 13 you should always ask your parents for permission before sending any personal information to us.”)


Online Ads & Influencers

As online advertising exploded, the online environment became fertile ground for innovative ways to communicate more directly with consumers, eventually leading to the rise of social media influencers.

February 2003 (CARU Case #4020): TV advertising and packaging for CONAIR Corporation Shiny Styles 4 in 1 Shiny Straight Waver included school-age girls using the product, with a difficult to read video-only disclosure stating, “parental supervision required,” but no adults were shown and there was no voice-over disclosure

  • CARU’s Guideline: Adults should be shown supervising children when products or activities could involve safety risks…In television advertising, “… both audio and video disclosures” should be employed, as should “demonstrative disclosures.”


April 2003 (CARU Case #4040): The Procter & Gamble Company Sunny Delight® Citrus Punch commercial “Concrete Block” stated, after a bottle of Sunny D broke out of concrete with rays of lightning and fresh fruit, “It’s the power of the sun in liquid form.” 

  • CARU’s Guideline: Advertisers need to examine the total advertising message to be certain that the net communication will not mislead or misinform children and “The advertising presentation should not mislead children about benefits from the use of the product. Such benefits may include…the acquisition of strength…”

October 2004 (CARU Case #4237): Popsicle® Scribblers® Real Fruit Juice Pops print, packaging, and website advertising in Nickelodeon Magazine with the words “Real Fruit Juice Pops,” though the listed ingredients were: water; pear, raspberry, orange, watermelon juices from concentrate; sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, natural and artificial flavor, citric acid, guar gum, locust bean gum, red #40, blue 1, yellow 5 & 6

  • CARU Guideline: “Copy, sound, and visual presentations should not mislead children about product or performance characteristics. Such characteristics may include, but are not limited to ... nutritional benefits.”
PopsicleScribblers Ad 2004 

May 2006 (CARU Case #4506): Pro Performance Sport, LLC “Hit-A-Way - Derek Jeter Series” print ad featuring a boy swinging a bat looking into the distance at the ball he has just hit with “I can...hit like Derek Jeter!” 

  • CARU Guideline: The advertising presentation should not mislead children about benefits from use of the product. Benefits attributed to the product or service should be inherent in its use. Advertisements should not imply that purchase and use of a product will confer upon the user the prestige, skills or other special qualities of characters appearing in advertising. 


November 2008 (CARU Case #4928): Johnson and Johnson Consumer Companies Clean and Clear Day Soft Oil-Free Moisturizer TV commercial featuring two teenage girls applying the product, a facial moisturizer labeled “Keep out of the reach of children,” riding in a convertible with a voiceover stating, “Get your best skin, soft, healthy, protected."

  • CARU Guideline: Advertisers should not advertise products directly to children that pose safety risks to them, nor should advertisers targeting children display or knowingly link to pages of websites that advertise such products.


Read the next installment of this series about today's challenges and the future of CARU. 

Interested in diving deeper into CARU’s cases? Read summaries of all CARU cases in the Case Decision library. To access the full case decisions for all cases, including CARU’s earliest cases, subscribe to the Online Archive

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