What's the Deal: Protecting your child's privacy online

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Safety officials are calling it an unprecedented and groundbreaking announcement when it comes to safeguarding the privacy of our children.

Four companies that own some of the most popular children's websites are taking immediate action to better protect our kids.

While your kids have been playing a game, watching a video, or just surfing online - someone has been watching them and monitoring their every move by collecting that information and then using it.

The internet is a host to a virtual playground.

Kids can watch a Barbie, Transformers, or Hot Wheel videos, play a Nerf or American Girl game or print My Little Pony coloring pages.

Want to create and care for virtual pets? You can do that, too. Or you can watch shows including Sponge Bob Square Pants, Dora the Explorer, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Now undercover grown-ups with the New York Attorney General's office have been on those websites for Operation Child Tracker.

COPPA, the Federal Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, makes it illegal for websites geared toward kids under the age of 13 to collect children's personal information without first getting a parent's consent.

The New York AG says all of these websites were breaking the law by using technology that could be used to track every click a child makes.

"Today the companies that run these sites, including Viacom, Hasbro, Mattel, and JumpStart, are being held accountable and they have accepted responsibility for their duty to police their sites," said New York Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman.

The AG says the tracking enablers were put on the sites by third-party ad vendors and in some cases, the host companies weren't even aware of their existence.

But under the law, what is on their website is their responsibility and each company will pay a penalty.

"They will also undertake significant reforms that will finally give parents the peace of mind they deserve when their children go online," said Schneiderman.

The reforms include conducting regular scans to monitor for unexpected third party tracking technologies and vetting third parties before they're used on children's websites.

The New York AG hopes the entire industry will follow these reforms.

Action News did reach out to all the companies for comment.

Hasbro says its goal is to ensure children's privacy comes first.

They released this full statement:

"At Hasbro, we are deeply committed to protecting the privacy of our audiences and delivering a safe, secure and enjoyable experience online.

We have cooperated fully with the New York Attorney General's office on the investigation and welcomed the opportunity to bolster our privacy practices in connection with today's settlement.

Moving forward, we will be more closely vetting and monitoring companies that work on our behalf. We are rolling out a new, stricter online privacy protection policy for our partners, and enacting new protocols and technology to scan our digital properties for any cookies, widgets or other applications that may violate our policy.

Hasbro has a proven track record as an excellent corporate citizen, having been named one of the World's Most Ethical Companies by Ethisphere Institute for five years running, in part because of our culture of ethical behavior.
As technology evolves, and regulation with it, our goal is to set the standard for responsible practices to ensure consumers' - and especially children's - privacy comes first."

To learn more about Operation Child Tracker, CLICK HERE.
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