Children and Website Privacy

Last week Jennifer Stoddart, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, spoke at an IT.Can teleconference about online behavioural advertising. Online behavioural advertising means tracking and targeting of individuals’ web activities, across sites and over time, in order to serve advertisements that are tailored to those individuals’ inferred interests. One point she made that I found interesting was about children.

Some countries have laws that specify how children under a certain age are to be treated online including what can be directed to them, and when parental consent is needed. That does not exist here. 

The Commisioner’s approach is that if sites are aimed at children, then privacy disclosures and consents must be simple and clear and understandable by children. Which of course means that one should not be doing things with their personal information that requires consent if they are incapable of understanding and giving an informed consent. This approach is somewhat consistent with the approach to consent to health care treatment where children are able to give consent to many types of treatment on their own, provided they are capable of giving an informed consent.

The Commissioner also made it clear that children should not be tracked online, and thus behavioral advertising should not be directed to children.


  1. Advertisers in Canada, hopefully, adhere to the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards which speaks to a child’s lack of experience, however, many advertisers (or data miners) would certainly argue that targeting certain ads does not lead to “physical, emotional or moral harm” as outlined in those guidelines.
    It is my understanding that Quebec prohibits advertising to children (those under 13 years of age), under the Quebec Consumer Protection Act.