CARU Recommends Sweety High, Inc. Modify Child-Directed Website To Better Protect Children’s Privacy

New York, NY – Dec. 17, 2009 – The Children’s Advertising Review Unit of the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CARU) has recommended that Sweety High, Inc., operator of the Website www.SweetyHigh.com take steps to better protect the privacy of children who visit the site. The company has agreed to do so.

CARU, the children’s advertising industry’s self-regulatory forum, monitors Websites for compliance with CARU’s Self-Regulatory Program for Children’s Advertising, including guidelines on Online Privacy Protection, as well as with the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

The Website came to the attention of CARU through a consumer complaint.

The Sweety High Website described itself as a social world for tween girls 10 and up.  The Website homepage depicted four teenage girls in front of a school. 

Upon its initial review of the site, CARU was concerned that the site collected personal information at pre-registration for the Sweetyhigh.com Website including, first and last name and email address, from visitors under the age of 13 without first obtaining verifiable parental consent and that the site did not have a privacy policy that explained its information collection practices.

CARU found that when a visitor went to the Website, a window immediately opened requesting an access code, followed by a message stated, “Don’t have a code? Pre-register for SweetyHigh at sweety@sweetyhigh.com.”  If a visitor clicked on the hyperlink, an email opened in a new window with the subject line, “I want to joint Sweety High.”  The email asked visitors to submit a first and last name, email address, age and zip code. CARU further determined that the Website did not contain a privacy policy that described its information collection practices.

In response to CARU inquiry, the operator stated that the Sweety High Website is a test site, not yet publically launched and is only accessible through the use of an access code that was provided upon a user’s pre-registration.

The operator asserted that Sweety High does not advertise the Website or link to other Websites, but has partnered with mothers in local communities who have hosted parties to build awareness of the site. According to the operator, at these parties, girls were pre-registered for the Website in the presence of a parent. 

The operator stated that at the time it received CARU’s letter, it had collected data from approximately 500 girls with approximately three-quarters of whom were pre-registered in-person at these events.  Of this number, about 150 were under the age of 13.  The operator asserted that the data collected had not been shared with any third parties nor had it been used to send communications to the pre-registrants.

According to the operator, it had prepared a privacy policy and developed procedures for obtaining verifiable parental consent for children under 13 who seek to register with the Website but did not believe it had to implement these procedures before the Website became publicly available.

Sweety High asserted that in order to bring its site into compliance with the Guidelines and COPPA, it posted a privacy policy to its Website, changed its age-screening mechanism to ensure that it asked questions in a neutral manner and added a session cookie so users could not go back and change their age and sent an email to each child under 13 who previously pre-registered requesting that the child submit a new pre-registration request that includes a parent’s email address.  An email was then sent to the parent requesting consent.

CARU noted in its decision that it was pleased the operator participated in CARU’s self-regulatory program and agreed to implement changes to bring its privacy practices into compliance with the Guidelines and COPPA. 

In its advertiser’s statement, Sweety High said it “accepts CARU’s decision in its entirety and appreciates CARU bringing its concerns to Sweety High’s attention. Sweety High is grateful for CARU’s recommendations which will help Sweety High realize its goal of creating a safe environment for girls online.”