NEWS30 September 2009

Privacy group logs FTC complaint over Echometrix

Government North America

US— A privacy group is calling on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate Echometrix, the maker of marketing intelligence software that analyses teens’ online conversations, alleging unfair and deceptive behaviour and violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has filed a complaint with the FTC in which it claims “parents are unaware that the company collects information about their children and discloses it to third parties”.

Echometrix began life as SearchHelp, marketing its Sentry Parental Control software as a tool to allow mums and dads to monitor their children’s use of the internet, including instant messaging programmes. Among its features was sentiment analysis technology that was designed to protect children from suspected paedophiles by analysing language in online conversations.

In 2008, it announced plans to commercialise that technology for use by marketers to understand what young people were saying about their brands and products online. SearchHelp went on to rename itself EchoMetrix and secured support for the rollout of its Pulse platform from the likes of Paramount, DreamWorks and Fox Broadcasting, and Group M and Mindshare. Earlier this month the company received a $2m investment from Rock Island Capital.

Echometrix says on its website that it has “a long-standing policy of strict adherence to the laws, policies and guiding principles defined in COPPA” and that it “never has and never will collect, distribute or sell personal information as defined by COPPA”.

It describes Pulse as “a proprietary software engine that reads digital content from multiple sources across the web, analyses and reveals the sentiment embedded in the digital conversations”. The company says that “under no circumstances does Pulse identify nor expose in any way the source of any digital content”.

Meanwhile, the privacy policy for the Sentry Parental Control software states that information collected by the software is used generally “to customise the advertising and content you see, fulfil your requests for products and services, improve our services, contact you, conduct research, and provide anonymous reporting for internal and external clients”.

EPIC, however, claims the company’s statements fall short of what is required. In its complaint to the FTC the organisation claims that: “Echometrix fails to disclose how information is collected and used in violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act. Secondly, Echometrix engages in practises that violate the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, such as failing to provide disclosure practises for information collected from children and obtaining ‘verifiable parental consent for the collection, use, or disclosure of personal information from children’.”

Echometrix had no further comment to make when contacted by Research.