The consumer protection agency in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia is currently investigating about one dozen of these online incarnations of the German Christmastime tradition.
“Most children’s Advent calendars encourage the participants to uncritically hand over their data,” the agency said, adding that parents who wish to teach their children sensible rules about privacy protection should "look over their shoulders" while they play such games online.
Behind their tiny digital doors are offers for prizes that include the PlayStation 3 and other items. The agency is looking into which information the sites are collecting and whether the children who play them are informed of what will happen to it. The data seems to be used mostly for spam email, but the addresses could also be sold to outside sources, the agency warned.
Online contests should require no more than an email address and sometimes a password, but some firms take advantage of children’s inexperience and ask for more personal information.
Only four of the 12 calendars online Advent calendars tested clearly explained in age-appropriate language that the information would only be used in association with the game, the agency said. Ten of them required both a name and an address before they allowed participation. Three asked for telephone numbers and four for birth dates.
“This is vexing, because girls and boys possess only limited commercial experience,” the organisation said in a statement. “They react more spontaneously and with more emotion than adults.”
The NRW consumer agency works under umbrella organisation the Federation of German Consumer Organisations (vzbv).