On 11 May 2015, the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the French data protection authority (CNIL) and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPCC) announced their participation in a new Global Privacy Enforcement Network (GPEN) privacy sweep to examine the data privacy practices of websites and apps aimed at or popular among children. This closely follows the results of GPEN’s latest sweep on mobile applications (apps),which suggested a high proportion of apps collected significant amounts of personal information but did not sufficiently explain how consumers’ personal information would be collected and used. We originally reported the sweep on mobile apps back in September 2014.

According to the CNIL and ICO, the purpose of this sweep is to determine a global picture of the privacy practices of websites and apps aimed at or frequently used by children. The sweep seeks to instigate recommendations or formal sanctions where non-compliance is identified and, more broadly, to provide valuable privacy education to the public and parents as well as promoting best privacy practice in the online space.

Background

GPEN was established in 2010 on the recommendation of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. GPEN aims to create cooperation between data protection regulators and authorities throughout the world in order to globally strengthen personal privacy. GPEN is currently made up of 51 data protection authorities across some 39 jurisdictions.

According to the ICO, GPEN has identified a growing global trend for websites and apps targeted at (or used by) children. This represents an area that requires special attention and protection. From 12 to 15 May 2015, GPEN’s “sweepers”—comprised of 28 volunteering data protection authorities across the globe, including the ICO, CNIL and the OPCC—will each review 50 popular websites and apps among children (such as online gaming sites, social networks, and sites offering educational services or tutoring). In particular, the sweepers will seek to determine inter alia:

  • The types of information being collected from children;
  • The ways in which privacy information is explained, including whether it is adapted to a younger audience (e.g., through the use of easy to understand language, large print, audio and animations, etc.);
  • Whether protective controls are implemented to limit the collection of childrens’ personal information, such as requiring parental permission prior to use of the relevant services or collection of personal information; and
  • The ease with which one can request for personal information submitted by children to be deleted.

Comment

We will have to wait some time for in-depth analysis of the sweep, as the results are not expected to be published until the Q3 of this year. As with previous sweeps, following publishing of the results, we can expect data protection authorities to issue new guidance, as well as write to those organisations identified as needing to improve or take more formal action where appropriate.