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New Maine Law Spins A Tangled Web

Publication Date: 
August 24, 2009
Portland Press Herald
Justin Ellis

Ryan Calo, a fellow at Stanford Law School's Center for Internet & Society, comments on Maine's "Act to Prevent Predatory Marketing Practices against Minors" with regards to protecting personal information of minors online:

Life would be so much easier if we could just stop little Johnny and Jill from going on the Internet until they're old enough to smoke and vote.

But since that's not the case, we wind up with laws like Maine's new "Act to Prevent Predatory Marketing Practices against Minors."

The law, signed in June, may have flown under your radar, lost amid the legislative fireworks over tax changes, gay marriage and other issues.

The law makes it illegal for anyone (or a Web site) to collect health or other personal information from anyone under 18 for marketing purposes without getting parental consent. The penalty for companies that break the law is up to $20,000.


Ryan Calo, a fellow at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School, said that traditionally, areas such as personal identification, health information and anything identifying minors have warranted greater protection under the law.

Calo said different types of services require different types of identification online. Some sites simply require a working e-mail address, while others call for a full name and birth date, he said.

Sites such as Facebook or place a premium on personal information because it's necessary for service, Calo said.

"If you have a service that cares who you are, or requires money, you will have to introduce some kind of identification," he said.

That information is important so companies can verify members' identities, but also because it can be used for marketing, he said.

Still, the issue of personal data is tricky with minors. In the event that a company wants to verify age or parental permission to use a site, it would need contact information, he said.