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Parental Control Software Datamines Kids' Online Conversations 105

An AP report reveals that web-monitoring software from Sentry and FamilySafe, both developed by EchoMetrix Inc., is harvesting data from kids' online chats, trying to determine their opinions on games, movies, and music. The data is then sold to other companies for advertising purposes. "In June, EchoMetrix unveiled a separate data-mining service called Pulse that taps into the data gathered by Sentry software to give businesses a glimpse of youth chatter online. While other services read publicly available teen chatter, Pulse also can read private chats. It gathers information from instant messages, blogs, social networking sites, forums and chat rooms. ... Parents who don't want the company to share their child's information to businesses can check a box to opt out. But that option can be found only by visiting the company's Web site, accessible through a control panel that appears after the program has been installed. It was not in the agreement contained in the Sentry Total Home Protection program The Associated Press downloaded and installed Friday."
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Parental Control Software Datamines Kids' Online Conversations

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  • by El Jynx ( 548908 ) on Monday September 07, 2009 @10:19AM (#29339953)

    Yup, I think I do, yesss preciousss. Filthy nasssty antiprivacccccy dataminersessss! OUR precioussss!

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by nurb432 ( 527695 )

      i doubt it. Im sure there was something deep down in the fine print that will derail a suit.

      • by jd142 ( 129673 )

        This. Or has that meme been played out?

        There is probably something in the install EULA that says that for additional clauses or changes to the EULA, people should always visit the company's website. It's like the terms of your credit card. There's always a clause in there that says they can change the terms at any time and give you notice. The clause in the EULA will tell you to go to their website for changes and update privacy information.

        IIRC the online protection law in the USA has a 13 year old cut

      • i guess everyone will have to hire a lawyer before they install any software, its a shame that lengthy and complicated wording in EULAs are used to hide intrusive spyware & malware and just plain malicious behavior, i hope EULAs like that NEVER stand up in court
        • by nurb432 ( 527695 )

          Sure they should. If you agree to something you should be held accountable.

          Anything less breaks down the entire concept of contract law. " wahhh.... i don't like your terms, so ill agree but wont follow them". Very dangerous precedent.

          • Contract law is also based on the principle that you can't agree to something illegal: i.e. if you agreed to it, unless it led to you doing something illegal, the person who made you sign the contract ("you will be my slave" for example) is liable for it and at least this clause of the contract is voided.
          • Sure, but you can't legally enforce a contract that is illegal. Also, its impossible to know what the EULA is before you buy the software in most cases and most of the time its either impossible or a pain to return opened software. So its like this, here you are going to need to give me the money in advance, then read the contract and sign, oh and if you don't like the contract, well you already took the contract so you can't take it back.
            • The response to that will be, "Yeah, our EULA is on our web site. If you want to read it there, you can."

              Companies know that the number of people who'll actually go to the website and read the EULA before buying the software will be vanishingly small.

      • by Khyber ( 864651 ) <> on Monday September 07, 2009 @02:03PM (#29342385) Homepage Journal

        "Im sure there was something deep down in the fine print that will derail a suit."

        Bullshit. When parents find out their children are being used for profit-making without their consent, not only is it going to be a shitstorm but it just might get COPPA reinstated.
        Never underestimate the backlash of millions of pissed off parents. Many of them will do absolutely psychotic things to defend their children from any perceived threat.

        • Never underestimate the backlash of millions of pissed off parents. Many of them will do absolutely psychotic things to defend their children from any perceived threat.

          Oh, granted.. but I believe that only us Nerds perceive the threat of coprorate data stalking, and those few of us nerds who have kids aren't card carrying members of any of the more influencial municipal mobs, so..

    • I seem to recall there is some federal law about protecting children's online privacy; but presumably the makers of this software anticipated that.
      • Well Paypal tried to anticipate potential lawsuits when they wrote their User Agreement, but the U.S. court very quickly expelled those portions. The court said that people can Not sign-away legally protected rights or privileges.

        Similarly a child or parent can not sign-away the children's right not to be monitored, regardless of what this software's EULA states.

    • I smell spyware.
  • by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Monday September 07, 2009 @10:21AM (#29339973) Homepage Journal

    When you delegate your parental responsibilities.

    • by tinkertim ( 918832 ) on Monday September 07, 2009 @10:35AM (#29340087) Homepage

      When you delegate your parental responsibilities.

      As a parent of a three year old girl, I agree with you. However, standing over their shoulder the entire time they use a computer is not going to be very productive.

      I wish more parents would understand that you have about 8 years from the time that a kid is born to install a sense of confidence and worth in them that can't be easily (if at all) broken by future peers, predators or come what may. If you manage to do it, your kid will make good choices.

      No software is a substitute for a desire in a child to make good, positive self serving choices when they are confronted with the various bumps in growing up.

      What a world this police state is becoming, sheesh.

      • by Shadow of Eternity ( 795165 ) on Monday September 07, 2009 @10:41AM (#29340157)

        The problem isn't the kids, the problem is that some (probably uncomfortably large) percentage of parents absolutely refuse to consider their children as anything other than half employee and half property. You raise your kids to never know privacy, dignity, or respect and unless they are particularly unique in some way that shakes them free of the pattern they'll be doormats to anyone that wants to violate them in a similar way.

        It doesn't help that we're the country that has no problem with flooding our kids with violence but god help us if they might possibly see a nipple somewhere, let alone anything else, and so parents will fall over themselves to pay various companies god knows how much for every knee-jerk reaction they can wring out of them.

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by JockTroll ( 996521 )

          Children as half-employees and half-property? Speak for yourself. I think of them as half fuel and half dog food.

        • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

          by Kohath ( 38547 )

          Mod parent up. Repeating these cliches is so interesting and informative.

          He mentioned we have violence but no sex on our TV! Did you know that?!? And he complained about parents! (Not sure what he was trying to say about parents, but some of them are bad, I guess.)

          It's the world's most insightful post.

          • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Actually, YOURS is the world's most insightful post.

            • Re: (Score:1, Redundant)

              by Kohath ( 38547 )

              Actually, YOURS is the world's most insightful post.

              Now you're just being sarcastic.

          • by quanticle ( 843097 ) on Monday September 07, 2009 @03:59PM (#29343397) Homepage

            There's a reason these stereotypes exist. Its because, in a large number of cases, they're actually true. If nothing else, the success of these companies proves that. The success of "Think of the children!" legislation proves it too.

            No one in power is standing up to the parents of America and saying, "Hey, the reason your kids are fat and emotionally maladjusted is because you're too scared to let them go out on their own and make their own decisions." So, its up to people like us to make that point and hammer away at it until it sinks in.

          • He mentioned we have violence but no sex on our TV!

            So if we ban Violence on TV and allow Sex then we'll create a world of lovers not fighters.

            I say we test this theory.

            • I see a slightly different effect in that earlier reaction to sex might make less horny generations.
              • I see a slightly different effect in that earlier reaction to sex might make less horny generations.

                Not according to Aldus Huxley []

                • by nazsco ( 695026 )
                  >> I see a slightly different effect in that earlier reaction to sex might make less horny generations.

                  > Not according to Aldus Huxley []

                  what do you mean not?

                  it's exactly what he preaches on the book.
                  • Depends on how you define "horny"

                    Kids start in "grade school" in the book, then they become indiscriminately horny all their adult lives. Soma provides a cure for those who are not.

      • emerge sys-misc/confidence done
      • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

        I don't yet have any children of my own but I agree with basic philosophy on parenting. My parents pretty much raised me that way and I'd like to think I turned out all right. I would partner permitting of course want the same for my children and would be EXACTLY like my parents were; you know that thing every teenager always says they would never do.

        I am not sure about the computer supervision though. At least during that vulnerable time when you want to be instilling your values I think you do want to

    • It hasn't been a problem up until now; TV never let us down like this.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Cable PVR boxes send usage stats to the cable co (uk) , ok they dont know WHO is watching, but they know exactly what you have watched, if you skipped the ads etc.

    • by durin ( 72931 )

      You might want to mention that to your government (I assume you're from the US from your sig).

    • by faffod ( 905810 )
      As a parent who understands computers I have set my my daughter's account to only allow email, IM and web pages from white listed friends/sites. Most parents I know do not come close to feeling comfortable setting up a computer with those settings. It is not that they do not want to be parents, quite the contrary they are involved in their child's development. They actively take steps to guide their child, and purchasing software to restrict access to the internet is a reasonable step in that direction. I d
    • Exactly, I plan on teaching my daughter to be like Ellen in Hard Candy.

      That'll teach 'em.

  • by russotto ( 537200 ) on Monday September 07, 2009 @10:24AM (#29339995) Journal

    Part of me wants to give a big Nelson ha-ha to the overprotective parents who install this crap trying to save their children from the eeeevil people on the Internet. Is it really any surprise that the corporations most interested in "protecting" your children are those who have figured out a way to exploit them?

    • Well, the other part of you will cry in terror, when those children are going to become leaders of the world, controlling your life too. (Ok, not really leaders, because they never learned to be anything else than doormats. :/)

  • Sue them. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Yvanhoe ( 564877 ) on Monday September 07, 2009 @10:26AM (#29340017) Journal
    Seriously. EULA or not, this is invading the children privacies. There must be a law against this.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by KlaasVaak ( 1613053 )
      Well I don't know about America but in the EU this would certainly be illegal I think you wouldn't even have to file a civil suit they would just be prosecuted But I know in America companies have much more freedom to fuck over their customers so maybe this was legal with you.
    • Re:Sue them. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Twanfox ( 185252 ) on Monday September 07, 2009 @11:42AM (#29340729)
      I seem to recall there being a law stating that no information may be collected from a under 13 years of age. It's called the Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) []. I don't know much more about what the software is asking, and whom it is asking, but it seems to me they're treading dangerous ground by doing this kind of thing.
    • Re:Sue them. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by selven ( 1556643 ) on Monday September 07, 2009 @12:09PM (#29341079)
      The child didn't agree to the EULA.
      • Does a child have right to privacy, however? It's not a troll question - I'm genuinely interested in an answer from someone who's qualified to answer... I know that children do not get many rights that adults enjoy; I wouldn't be surprised to find out that, legally, privacy is one of these rights, and that parents can "sign it away" on their kids' behalf, so to speak.

  • How many more programs are there that do the same?

    I never liked to have programs running in the background... this is just another reason not to install any program at all that wants to start up when I turn the computer on.

    Privacy... what's that?

    Can someone just make sure that these freaks are locked away for a decade or two please? Any invasion of privacy as extreme as this surely is illegal???

    • by numbski ( 515011 )

      Heh - as a very tangentially related item, am I the only one that when starting at a new business runs hijackthis to hunt down any and all background processes and kill them off if I don't explicity want it running?

      Half the time there's something there. Be it malware, spyware in the sense that the boss wants to spy on you, or some other such nonsense (every ad-bar you can imagine).

      Thankfully my current employer allows me to use Ubuntu on my desktop, but it helps that I'm the senior unix engineer. I've als

  • Sounds Illegal to me (Score:5, Informative)

    by Concern ( 819622 ) on Monday September 07, 2009 @10:32AM (#29340059) Journal

    In the US, children have special privacy protections afforded by law. It involves things like "opt-in" and parental consent. []

    IANAL, but I have worked on a number of projects which had to comply. Based on what is said here, this seems in flagrant violation. Somebody call the cops.

    • by Geoffrey.landis ( 926948 ) on Monday September 07, 2009 @10:59AM (#29340303) Homepage

      In the US, children have special privacy protections afforded by law. It involves things like "opt-in" and parental consent. []

      IANAL, but I have worked on a number of projects which had to comply. Based on what is said here, this seems in flagrant violation. Somebody call the cops.


      "The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act and Rule apply to individually identifiable information about a child"

      As long as they're only data mining the information on what the kids are interested in, and not saving which child was interested in what, they're apparently not violating the COPPA law.

      Which is not to say that what they're doing is right, of course.

      • FTA:"We never know the name of the kid -- it's bobby37 on the house computer"

        How many Bobby's live in the house? And what info do they ask for when you register the software? Name, address, phone, etc. Crap, there's a good chance that the computer's named "Johnson Family Laptop"
        They know the names, and they save the registration info. I would further guess that they provide data by location to these companies as well. So they know that Bobby37 is on the computer at 1400 Main St whose parents are Don and Ju

      • by Concern ( 819622 )

        Yes, I see your point. You may be right. At least, it looks like the act [] specifically defines personal information as including an "identifier" that, while defined broadly, wouldn't cover aggregate statistical information culled from these raw data streams.

        I wonder if there still isn't a COPPA angle to prosecute, for some enterprising DA.

        If EchoMetrix is like most American marketing data firms, they have no safeguards or controls, so raw data may be going to partners, subcontractors, "affiliates," etc. That

      • As long as they're only data mining the information on what the kids are interested in, and not saving which child was interested in what, they're apparently not violating the COPPA law.

        However, what qualifies as 'individually identifiable' may be a lot broader than it first appears. Remember the recent case of correlating imdb ratings with presumably anonymous netflix rental data used for their recommendation contest to figure out what other movies the imdb users had rented but had not rated? There could easily be "in the bigger picture" privacy leaks like that going on here too.

    • And, as far as parental consent is concerned, the company already has it. After all, it was the *parent* that installed this software, implicitly consenting to said data gathering about their child.

  • by gsslay ( 807818 ) on Monday September 07, 2009 @10:34AM (#29340081)

    Early results indicate that kids are pre-occupied with gayness (in an unfocussed and confused way), wedgies, noogies and the smell of poo.

    Further analysis reveals that Disney actors are hot, teachers aren't and swimming pools are responsible for most diseases.

    Any company data-mining this further are welcome to try. There are great truths to be found within, I'm sure.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Early results indicate that kids are pre-occupied with gayness (in an unfocussed and confused way)

      Well, to be fair, so is the entire Republican party.

      ...Further analysis reveals that Disney actors are hot, teachers aren't and swimming pools are responsible for most diseases.

      Don't be silly. Cooties are responsible for most illnesses. Boys get 'em from kissing girls. But, of course, only kids who are totally gay would be kissing girls. Ick!

      Of course, once you get above the 9-year-old demographic, the scientific consensus changes.

  • Wonderful ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by krou ( 1027572 ) on Monday September 07, 2009 @10:37AM (#29340123)
    FamilySafe: Protecting your kids, but not from us!
    • You know those e-mail filters where you have to solve a CAPTCHA when you send somebody an e-mail? With some of those, when you fill out the CAPTCHA, you get e-mails a couple of days/weeks later asking you if you want to sign up for their service - so they are trying to sell an anti-spam product by sending spam. Actually I also got some real spam (=randomly picked addresses) advertising these services, too. Same principle ...
    • Consider it more of an exclusive bargaining agreement, except it's not quite bargaining

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Children are not the only people who use these blockers. Adults use them too. Anyone who sits at that computer while the blocker is enabled is going to be logged. Some adults even put it on even if they don't have children to police their own surfing if they have an addiction.

  • Scare tactics (Score:4, Interesting)

    by redelm ( 54142 ) on Monday September 07, 2009 @10:42AM (#29340159) Homepage
    Well, what did you expect? Blocking software is basically an outgrowth of monitoring / usage software primarily developed for targetted marketing. So of course it monitors, the better build its' database.

    Of course the kids have privacy rights, but as minors cannot exercise these which the parents/guardians have a fiduciary duty to exercise. The parents doubtless click agreement when the software is installed.

    The real problem is that parents are scared into agreement by media overhyping low probability events and omitting crucial explanations / causes. So the parents hear: "Your kids could be another Columbine or victim" to sell whatever schlock they're peddling. Non-sequitur but the data is obscured.

    A bigger question is why people like being scared. Adrenline rush? Most TV news runs that way. I never understood the popularity of horror flicks.

  • Cue lawsuits as the wife starts getting targeted advertisements for 'hot sluts in your area' due to the husbands chatting habits...
  • a new kind of child predator has reared its head.
  • by Omnifarious ( 11933 ) * <(eric-slash) (at) (> on Monday September 07, 2009 @10:55AM (#29340273) Homepage Journal

    One thing I always tell people is that people who won't show you the source code to their software have something to hide. It's almost certain their software is doing something that benefits themselves at your expense. Sovereignty over your own possessions requires that you insist on visible source code, even if you can't understand it yourself.

    • "Skilled developer, designer and mentor with over 15 years of industry experience. Focus on high-quality reusable code, and designs that stand the test of time. Also an innovator and source of new ideas who can push them forward in a way that's greeted positively by the entire organization. A rare blend of good communication skills and technical excellence. "

      You forgot to add "modest" to that list.

      Oh , wait...

    • The old 'if you've got nothing to hide, you won't mind us looking around' argument? I'll admit it's not as big a privacy concern as the real life use of it, but I just don't see what's so evil about not handing out your work in a form that allows people to use it without paying you for your efforts. While I do appreciate open source software, I don't have a problem with people writing software that isn't.
      • So, you're saying that once I buy a piece of software, it isn't really mine and so it the original developer has some kind of privacy right with respect to looking around inside of how it works?

    • So why doesn't the open source community combine tech from web harvesters and spambots to create false info to pollute the data?

      Even better, google bomb the data and see if any companies that use that data can be convinced to bring doomed products to market based on the false data.

      Wait, does this explain the hello kitty vibrator and harry potter vibrating broomstick? Now we need a buzz about needing 'walking bear' t-shirts with links to a pedo-bear seal of approval.
    • Hi Richard ;-)
    • It's almost certain their software is doing something that benefits themselves at your expense.

      With all due respect, that's really a load of crap. It's the same "you can't prove it's not true so it is!" crap people always use to push a particular agenda when they have nothing to back it up.

      You like open-source software? Great, so do I. That doesn't mean it's "almost certain their software is doing something that benefits themselves at your expense" if they choose not to release the source code. There

  • I decided long ago, to never have kids. Kids aren't worth it, and this is a horrible world to raise kids in. Every time Slashdot has something on the subject of kids, its some horrible and obscene shit that makes me wish I was never born. This company should have the book thrown at them. So do the parents.

    What the fuck are parents thinking? Seriously.

    • I don't like what this company is doing and will avoid the product and tell others to do so. I am a privacy advocate. Even I wouldn't say that a company trying to make money is necessarily "horrible and obscene". Until "datamining the Internet activities of minors" becomes a crime, this is no more horrible and obscene than television. We all have the choice to switch that off, too.

      The difference for me is that a computer is far more useful than a television.

      By the way, I don't condemn you for not having chi

  • by Temujin_12 ( 832986 ) on Monday September 07, 2009 @11:44AM (#29340759)

    My wife and I view our responsibility as parents as very basic:

    1) Provide basic necessities an enjoyments of life (emphasis on necessities)
    2) Provide love and a feeling of trust and safety in the home
    3) Teach them a strong sense of identity and self-worth
    4) Teach our kids what choices are, how to recognize good from bad choices, and how to accept the consequences of you actions

    For computers, here's our strategy:

    1) Place computers in a open public place (including our own)
    2) Teach them that computers are a tool and how people use it for good and bad
    3) Openly discuss what acceptable and unacceptable behavior with computers/games are
    4) Limit time spent on computer
    5) As much as possible, don't create double standards
    6) Use OpenDNS and block certain sites depending on their age

    We feel parental technology should be used to reinforce what you're already teaching, not as a substitute.

  • I'd like to say that this would be a blow to filtering, but I know it won't be - the average person doesn't even know what "datamining" is, never mind the average parent. As it has been said above - most parents would probably agree to sign away all their child(ren)'s privacy and rights, as long as there was no chance of them accidentally glimpsing anything sexual in nature, and it won't matter to them - the majority don't give their children rights or privacy anyway, so why should they care if it's a compa
  • by Hurricane78 ( 562437 ) <(deleted) (at) (> on Monday September 07, 2009 @02:28PM (#29342621)

    No exceptions. It's morally wrong, and only "required" if you're an unfit parent that does not have the combination of true respect and ability to educate.

    Also it is for those sick twisted minds, who somehow got the idea that sex & co. would somehow be bad and even hurt children. Something that makes absolutely no sense, if you so much as think about if for more than ten seconds.

    It's really rather sad. Parents giving their unfitness and diseases to their poor children, who then continue to infect others.
    Only education can cure that. Social education and education about how to avoid false social conditioning.
    But unfortunately, the government works -- on a higher level -- in the same unfit and sick way.

    Basically, we're fucked. :/

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Dhalka226 ( 559740 )

      You know what I think makes one unfit to be a parent? Commenting on hypothetical parents with hypothetical children using absolute statements that attempt to assert some sort of moral superiority for letting kids do anything they want.

      Contrary to what you think, there isn't a right or wrong answer; it's specific to the parents and the child. Some may consider it a good opportunity to let their children go wherever they want on the Internet and then talk about whatever they see as it comes up. That's pe

  • I recently received an email from Comcast that states that they are changing their so-called "Privacy Policy" to include data gathering from all of their internet service customers.

    The problem (besides the obvious)?

    The "opt-out" option doesn't work.

    A couple of the 3rd party partners flat out refuse to allow opting out, and the rest ALL require you to keep a "blank cookie" on your machine to opt-out. The problem is that the vast majority of sites you visit don't work unless you allow a new cookie (including

You must realize that the computer has it in for you. The irrefutable proof of this is that the computer always does what you tell it to do.