Many adults remember the days when kids would write letters to the North Pole, in the hopes that the real Santa Claus would read their Christmas wish lists and bring them the presents they wanted. Well, Dear Santa letters have finally caught up with the pace of technology, as many websites that claim to offer children a way to send their wish lists to the North Pole have been set up. According to the Augusta Chronicle, over 60 domain names relating to Dear Santa letters were already established by late November.
While helping your child craft an email to Santa might seem like a cute idea, there’s definitely reason for caution when you use one of these third-party websites, particularly since these websites specifically cater to young children, who need the supervision of their parents when they’re online anyway. The Children’s Advertising Review Unit states that all websites that market to children should reveal the full name of the company and disclose whether they share any collected data with other companies. This policy may seem extreme, but is it so outrageous to demand to know who our children are communicating with online?
This non-profit review committee recommends that parents sit with their kids as they fill out their Santa letters and help them write a wish list that keeps their personal information safe. Children should not provide any physical description of themselves, nor should they give their real names or mailing addresses. Parents should also read over the site’s requirements to find out how much personal information the site asks children to provide. If a company requests more than a first name and a valid email address, the site may be intending to use this information for marketing purposes.
Image c/o: RambergMediaImages
2011 marks the 25th anniversary of the Electronics Communication Privacy Act (ECPA), one of the first digital protection laws enacted on behalf of consumers by the United States government. The ECPA was originally intended to keep users’ emails private and restricted from government searches or seizures. However, the original language of the law is becoming inadequate for our modern day and potentially leaving consumers’ online privacy out in the open.
Enacted during the Reagan Administration, the ECPA prevents the government from obtaining the emails of private individuals without a warrant, but this protection expires once the emails become six months old. In the early days of the World Wide Web, this provision was essentially unnecessary, since emails were not stored by email accounts or online servers. Generally, only abandoned email accounts held messages that were more than six months old, which meant that the law covered the vast majority of consumer emails.
With the advent of cloud storage, though, this law is quickly becoming obsolete. All of the major email clients – Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail – use cloud servers to store emails. (Cloud servers are vast networks of offline computers that are used to store and load data.) Since private emails are stored online by these cloud servers for months and years, the outdated language in the ECPA allows government officials and law enforcement to seize any email that is more than six months old without a judge’s order. Which means that any email you have in your Gmail account right now that is more than six months old is available to the government at any time.
Despite the ECPA’s lag behind technology, there is little interest in updating it. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) proposed a bill to update the law to protect consumers, but neither Republicans nor the White House are expected to support a new version of the law.
Image c/o: visual velocity pc