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It's Not Child's Play: The Online Invasion of Children's Privacy

20 Pages Posted: 12 Jul 2007  

Valerie Steeves

University of Ottawa - Criminology


Privacy laws based on fair information practices have been ineffective in protecting children's online privacy because they are based on a narrow interpretation of Alan Westin's definition of privacy as informational control. Although Westin's original definition started with informational control, it continued to discuss privacy in the context of an interpersonal boundary. Similarly, Westin's original legislative program included fair information practices, but they were only the fifth step in a five-step process that first required organizations seeking to use surveillance to prove that the surveillance was socially appropriate. This paper seeks to reclaim these forgotten elements of Westin's work. It suggests that privacy is the boundary between the self and the other that is negotiated through inter-subjective communication. An examination of the ways in which commercial websites invade children's privacy demonstrates that this alternative conceptualization of privacy better enables legislators to protect children's privacy because it takes both their social experiences and their developmental needs into account, and frees the legislative debate from narrow issues of consent. This alternative conceptualization also helps to revitalize Westin's original legislative framework by bringing the purposes for surveillance into question.

Keywords: children, privacy, online marketing, Alan Westin, surveillance

Suggested Citation

Steeves, Valerie, It's Not Child's Play: The Online Invasion of Children's Privacy. University of Ottawa Law & Technology Journal, Vol. 3, No. 1, 2006. Available at SSRN:

Valerie Steeves (Contact Author)

University of Ottawa - Criminology ( email )

25 University Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1N 6N5
(613) 562-5800 ext. 1793 (Phone)
(613) 562-5304 (Fax)

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