Webkinz children's site is subject of complaint to FTC
The children's online site Webkinz is the focus of a complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission by a child advocacy group, which is urging the agency to investigate corporate parent Ganz for alleged deceptive and unfair trade practices.
According to the complaint, Webkinz asks children to provide their first name, date of birth, gender and state of residence during registration, urging the users "it is important to use real information." As the child navigates the animated website, dubbed Webkinz World, Webkinz monitors the child's activity by depositing software to track his or her movements through the site, the complaint said.
As the children play in Webkinz World -- which is aimed at children ages 6 to 13 and enables users to play games and interact with other members -- Ganz allows third parties to track their activities for behavioral advertising purposes, the advocacy group alleges.
Ganz says parents can "easily opt out" of having their children view ads, noting it is "committed to being highly responsible in our approach to advertising." But ads continue to appear on the site, even after parents have opted out, according to the complaint. In fact, the complaint said, ads are incorporated into Webkinz games such as "Wheel of Wow," which attracts some 4 million players a month.
"Parents are undermined and children harmed when companies like Ganz offer misleading advertising policies," said Dr. Susan Linn, director of the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood.
Elaine Parsons, Ganz's director of operations, said the company is reviewing the complaint but wasn't prepared to comment.
-- Dawn C. Chmielewski
Photo: Screen shot of Webkinz.com.