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On the internet, no one knows you’re a dog…

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…or 10 years old.  Given that commercial interaction with both minors and children under the age of 13 is both regulated and difficult to control, that simple fact should give all businesses pause for thought.   “But Legally Social Guy,” you say, a tear running across your downy cheek.  “I sell heavy machinery.  Or consulting services.  Or cars.  I don’t have to worry about such things!”  Oh yes you do! 

I have been fascinated to watch the Internet activities of my son and his friends, curious to see how parents view use of the Internet and whether there are any real controls on their online behavior.  As one might imagine, the situation is somewhat mixed: some parents are quite watchful, and others are shockingly laissez faire.  But regardless of parental involvement, you can be sure that children are looking at your web site.  Why?  It’s because of what I call “search habits.”

The search habits of kids today are quite different than what adults experienced all those years ago.  Because information is presumed to be at your fingertips at all times, questions are meant to be answered, not left for another day.  Today, every time a child thinks a strange thought, or overhears a phrase that he or she does not perfectly understand, the first idea that crosses their mind is “I should go look that up on the Internet!”  On their phone.  Right now. 

Did your child just see a cool car?  She wants to look at every site that talks about that model.  Did your child see a bulldozer or a crane?  That will be his next search term.  Was there a billboard on the highway?  A commercial on television?  A pharmaceutical ad?  Kids look these things up — the idea that your site is “not attractive to children” has been, as they used to say in college theory classes, problemitized

What does that mean?  It means that instead of just considering whether you are intending, explicitly, to sell your wares or services to minors, you need to consider (a) whether there are scenarios that might attract children or minors to your site, and (b) what types of activity might actually take place there.  The details will, of course, vary significantly depending on your site and the manner in which you use it for your own marketing efforts, but do not assume that your site will never be viewed or accessed or used by folks without the ability to contract with you, and without the consent of parents.  Instead, consider the real world, and whether it has any impact on your obligations under the law.