Groups seek to shield minors’ Web data

Child advocates seek regulatory guidelines to prevent Internet firms from gathering sensitive information.

A coalition of medical groups and child advocates called Friday for guidelines that would prevent Internet companies from tracking the behavior of minors online, contending that many adolescents are divulging more than they realize and aren’t digesting complex privacy policies.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Assn. were among those asking the Federal Trade Commission to encourage the Internet industry to stop profiling young Web surfers by monitoring the sites they visit and the interests they list on social networks such as MySpace and Facebook.

Just as the government has restricted the amount and nature of television commercials aimed at children, the FTC should step in when interactive ad systems gather sensitive information from minors, the groups said in a filing Friday.

It came amid a flurry of responses to an agency proposal for voluntary guidelines on a burgeoning form of online advertising known as behavioral targeting, a market expected to be worth billions in a few years.

Other nonprofit groups expressed alarm at the rapid consolidation of the largest online ad companies and about Internet service providers beginning to share their vast amounts of data with marketers.

“New ad networks appear to be using . . . traffic data for behavioral advertising without proper safeguards or user consent,” the Center for Democracy and Technology and two other groups wrote. “No regulation or self-regulation exists to address the privacy implications of this new model.”

The medical groups said teens were among the most active Internet users and were the most sought-after by advertisers. But the groups said teens also were the least able to understand how to stop their personal activity from being tracked, used for marketing purposes and sold to others.