Wednesday, February 20, 2008

On Build-A-Bear, Privacy, and Protecting Children and Your Company

I heard about this on Jumping Monkeys (one of my favorite podcasts, which focuses on raising children in a digital age). They recently interviewed Denise Howell who is one of the few women who writes a blog for ZD Net. She is a lawyer focusing on the “intersection of emerging technologies and law.”

In January, she wrote about her visit to Build-A-Bear store, where children get to design, stuff and accessorize their own bears. Denise’s keen eyes noticed that the company was enticing children to provide personal information on their super-cute in-store computers. Upon publishing her first post about it (“Harvesting data from children with cuddly creatures and cutesy keyboards”), she got quite a reaction which she describes in a follow-up post (“Follow-up: Build-A-Bear says it will take privacy suggestions to heart”). The most interesting is the quick and thoughtful response from the company, which she also shares with permission.

The whole situation raises some compelling points:

1. The response from a company representative to a blog post is an excellent example of using the social media space. As PR folk, we absolutely must be encouraging our clients and organizations to monitor the blogosphere and how to respond to criticism and praise. This is not something to figure out when we get around to it later this year. It’s a now thing. Build-A-Bear gets good points for this one.

2. If you have any part of collecting customer or web site visitor data, make sure you: are following the laws that govern this, have a privacy policy in place and clearly visible, are protect the data securely – extra securely – and are not misleading anyone. Denise provides specific suggestions to Build-A-Bear that you can read in their e-mail exchange.

3. Children are a special population. If your customers are children, then re-read #2 above more carefully.

4. As consumers, we must be more mindful about your own privacy and what data we are sharing. Does that retail store really need to know about your first-born in order to sell you a battery? Heck no!

5. As a parent, teach your children not to type personal information into a computer. Explain what personal information is. After hearing this story, I had a 3-minute talk with my 6-year-old. I told her that when she is on the Internet, not to type her full name, her address, her phone number, or even the name of her school. She asked why. I said, for safety. That was enough for her age. This is how I know: She then said, if the Internet page asks for any of that, I’ll just… “ask your mom or dad first,” I suggested. But she continued, “no, I’ll just click that red X at the top.”

This topic is critical to our organizations and clients legally, ethically and in terms of reputation. It’s also about making sure that in the enthusiasm of some great project that we don’t overlook who it’s all for.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

CBS News Anchor Shomari Stone interviewed 6 year old Jacob Bloom. Jacob won the 2008 Build A Bear Huggable Contest. Take a look at how he helps animals. He is the cutest kid!
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