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Bill filed to protect students from online marketing

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A state senator has filed legislation to protect Florida’s K-12 students from websites that mine personal information online.

Tallahassee Democrat Bill Montford, a former county schools superintendent, filed his bill (SB 1146) Wednesday.

The “Student Online Personal Information Protection Act” says websites and applications aimed at students can’t “target” their advertising, create marketing profiles or sell any “personally identifiable information” they may glean.

It allows exceptions as long as the purpose is not “in the furtherance of advertising or to amass a profile about a student for purposes other than K–12 school purposes.”

The bill, however, does not contain an enforcement or penalty section.

Retailers routinely gather information on customers to focus their pitches, mostly by analyzing recent purchases.

According to a 2012 New York Times story, Target, for instance, assigns shoppers a “pregnancy prediction” score so the big-box chain can “send coupons timed to very specific stages of pregnancy.”

“What Target discovered fairly quickly,” a Forbes story added, “is that it creeped people out that the company knew about their pregnancies in advance.”

The NYT story used an anecdote – “so good that it sounds made up,” the Forbes writer adds – of the father of a teen girl who complained to his local Target when his daughter started receiving “coupons for baby clothes and cribs.”

“Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?” he said.

Later, the father called to apologize: “It turns out there’s been some activities in my house I haven’t been completely aware of. She’s due in August.”

Interest in protecting student privacy has grown in recent years. Last year, lawmakers passed a measure banning Florida public schools from collecting biometric data, which include things like a “fingerprint or hand scan, a retina or iris scan, a voice print, or a facial geometry scan.”

It also protects students from being contacted by marketers and news reporters.

The law meant that Pinellas County schools had to discontinue using palm scanners for payment in school lunch lines.

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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