Build-A-Bear Teaches Your Kids To Disclose Personal Information?

Over at ZDnet an interesting point has been raised: Why does Build-A-Bear workshop need to know so much information about your children? Just to help return a lost bear? Should kids be encouraged to give out so much information?

You see, each Build-A-Bear critter is issued a “birth certificate,” which is generated after the kids — and hopefully their parents, though that didn’t seem to be making a bit of difference on the common sense front — visit a bank of computers. These are big orangey-purple affairs, sort of Dr. Seussian in presentation. The keyboard buttons include stars and other colored shapes to make data input all the easier and more intuitive for youngsters. In fact, the computer-plus-keyboard experience is very close (no doubt intentionally so) to something children and their parents might have experienced in a kids’ museum, library, or school. Before their new friend can get its birth certificate, the kids are prompted to enter a host of very personal personal information: birth date, home address, gender, phone, and email among them. Along the way is the option to “skip” some of this input, but unlike what we’re used to in the world of online retail forms, there’s no effort to communicate what data is “required” for the transaction to proceed, and what’s “optional.” The overall effect is to sideline the privacy-savviness that might otherwise accompany the parent and/or child. I sat there and watched parent after parent prompt their kids to flex their memory muscles and practice their computer skills: “Ok Timmy, now, what’s our address? What’s your birthday? Do you remember our phone number? Good typing!!”

Well, when you put it that way it does seem sort of… sinister.

What do you think?

Harvesting data from children with cuddly creatures and cutesy keyboards [ZDNet via BoingBoing]


Edit Your Comment

  1. The Great Aussie Evil says:

    The bear’s a NSA agent!

  2. hoot550 says:

    Well, obviously those concerned with privacy must have something to hide. Every time you don’t present your personal information on demand, the terrorists win. (that was my sarcastic voice)

  3. That’s not nearly as bad as the transmitters/microphones they have the kids put inside the bears.

  4. DeeJayQueue says:

    I guess the jury is out till we can find out what they’re actually using the info for. Seems kinda strange that they need so much info though. Optimistically maybe they send out birthday cards or something? No, probably not.

    • Anonymous says:

      @DeeJayQueue: They do send out birthday cards, with coupons. They don’t ask for phone numbers, FYI. How stupid to think they’re using bears for sinister purposes. How long has Build-A-Bear been around? And how many horror stories have you heard about Build-A-Bear customers?

  5. misteral says:

    It’s for marketing. Every few months (just before a major holiday in fact!) I seem to get a glossy pamphlet for BaB touting their upcoming bears.

    Thankfully they don’t care what names you use… I’m surprised they don’t censor those machines *eg*

  6. coan_net says:

    If you child is going to keep the bear as a “member of the family”, and you would like it returned if lost – then provide the information.

    If you want e-mails about new bears and such, include the e-mail address.

    If you don’t want any of the above, then put in fake information.

    123 Bear Ave.
    Bearville, AR 12345
    (123) 456-7890

  7. The Great Aussie Evil says:

    @misteral: What, you can get a bear named “Buttmunch McFucknugget”?

  8. bohemian says:

    Wacky Bear does this also. They don’t tell you if they keep this on file, share it or ditch the data after they print the certificate.

    The totally evil part of this is that they really hang the parent in a bad situation and they know it. You get kids in the door and all the excitement of picking parts, clothes, the animal and getting all invested in this process. THEN they toss the information gathering in very late in the process. What parent is going to have a kid go through all the steps and anticipation of creating this critter and then yank it out from under them? It would take a monumental a-hole to do that.

    So there is little complaint about why so much information or where it is going. We discovered the same thing at Wacky Bear (another chain same deal). So we did try to prompt our daughter and helped her try to skip some of the fields. IIRC we were able to skip the street address and phone fields.

    I would be really interested to know what these companies are doing with this data since it is all, you know, on kids.

  9. MercuryPDX says:

    This is a situation similar to my chipping my dog. First, like most retired racers his ears have been tattooed, but that doesn’t mean people know to look there… or even know what to do with that information should they discover them.

    Chipping him at least gives a vet or animal control a common way to identify he’s mine.

    However, all bets are off if the person who finds my dog, decides to keep him.

    That said, if I were to find a “bear” on the street, I’d have no idea he was marked with a trackable bar code, let alone know what to do with it.

    The info is probably collected for internal marketing purposes only, because the “Lost bear” form only seems to care about your name, Email address, and phone #. It also states in tiny print: “If a match is found, we will try to contact the apparent owner by mail.”

    Lost “Bear” form:

  10. howie_in_az says:

    Wouldn’t the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act get in the way here?

  11. jamesdenver says:

    That’s unbearable.

  12. MercuryPDX says:

    Also: Build-A-Bear Workshop does not release the personally identifiable information it collects from you to any unrelated third parties so that they may send you commercial promotions or offers for products or services.

    Translates as: We will still spam the hell out of you.

  13. camille__ says:

    In 8th grade, my friends made me one…with a fake name. It’s a cute store, but when I first went there when I was 12 or so my mom was a little concerened about putting in information.

  14. unklegwar says:

    @Aussie-Evil: Sure. Why not.

    I dated a girl who absolutely got off on the idea of me building a bear and then using the playback device to record a completely dirty filthy adult phrase, and then presenting her with the bear.

    But then, I refer to her as Krazy Kate now, so….

    Of course, I would have used completely fictitious info in the questionnaire.

  15. humphrmi says:

    @coan_net: I’ve been to Build a Bear several times with my kids and you don’t need to fake anything. You just skip the fields that you don’t want to provide. I taught my kids, who use the web all the time for games and such, not to provide certain information. My five year old seems to grasp the concept.

  16. forever_knight says:

    someone should ask what they do with that info!

    anyone but me, that is.

  17. moosenut754 says:

    @Aussie-Evil: Absolutely. I worked there when I was in high school. We would find some pretty inappropriate ones on the printer.

  18. renegadebarista says:

    This is one of the things that has the tendency to bother me about the Consumerist, its “editors” very rarely if ever do anything more the just post what is submitted to them by readers or that they find on the web. I have seen very few cases where they act like journalists by investigating claims made. Build A Bear does state that they use the info for internal marketing, they also use it for the return of lost bears. I know a lot of readers are sitting there laughing at that but these bears mean a lot to the kids that make them. On a trip to Disneyland my son made a bear and promptly dropped it two days latter on our way from our hotel at Disney to the shuttle to the airport. The next day we received a call from Build A Bear wanting to verify the address to ship the bear to. They also informed us that the Mouse Ears that the bear was wearing where damaged and that they had gone to the park to get a new set that would be included in the shipment. 3 days latter the bear arrived at our home clean and fluffed, with both the original set of ears and the replacement at NO CHARGE. My son was overjoyed. I appreciate the fact that Build A Bear does this. As for the marketing we get coupons in my e-mail once a month and a flyer 2 or 3 times a year not a big deal to me considering what I got in return for it. Build A Bear has done nothing wrong here. Try going to Target, or Nordstrom’s and getting something you lost back.

  19. forever_knight says:

    kids shouldn’t be able to “BUILD-A-BEAR” without putting in some serious effort. like having a species change surgery and then having sex with another bear.

    call me old fashioned.

  20. PinkBox says:

    You don’t even have to get the certificate if you don’t want to, right? Just skip that part and pay for your bear.

  21. Blue says:

    I agree with the last bit. What is so frightening, is how MOST OF US volunteer all that information without hesitation.

  22. Blondimom says:

    The purpose of the name and addresses so that they can return the bear if it is lost. Half the tag is stuffed in bear, if found they open the bear scan the tag and know where to send it. I m not parinod. My kids know they dont give out personal information, unless I have told them it is ok.

  23. lovelygirl says:

    RenegadeBarista– that’s a really good point. Build-a-Bear really went above and beyond in that situation and I think that’s great. More companies would do well to follow their example. But if the parents objected to putting so much personal information, wouldn’t they tell their kid not to fill in that part? And if it said ‘this is required’, THEN fill it in? Don’t blame Build-a-Bear, blame the parents! What are they thinking?

  24. Framling says:

    @coan_net: Hey, I’ve used that bear’s phone number at Safeway!

  25. Imaginary_Friend says:

    @renegadebarista: I don’t get why it bothers you; I’ve seen a few other posters complain about the Consumerist editors, too, and it always baffles me. This is a blog – not a newspaper. The writers and editors never claimed to be journalists. If you’re looking for a five part series on the tragedy of homeless shopping carts, with one-on-one interviews with every person cited in the story and court docket numbers and transcripts .. lemme be the first to tell ya, you’re in the wrong place.

    That is very cool customer service from Build A Bear though. It’s nice to hear of a company doing something positive with their privacy invading. ;)

  26. Marce says:

    I made my father a bear at Build-A-Bear for Christmas several years ago. I had two friends who worked there, so they told me I could skip everything but putting in the bear’s name. Hooray for insider info.

  27. aikoto says:

    When my kids make their bears, they put in no information other than MY e-mail address. That way, if it every did become “Lost”, we’ll know, but I can deal with any crap e-mails that arrive better than my kids.

  28. thejbs says:

    RenegadeBarista – I agree!

    the original article on zdnet states clearly that BABW includes its privacy statement with each certificate. Consumerist is just muckraking without doing the very minimal amount of homework required, they failed to mention this when regurgitating the original (and equally stupid) article.

    BABW is probably has some of the best customer service out there, every employee at their stores goes ‘above and beyond’ every day. They use the info for thier own marketing, duh, and also invite customers to special events and parties at their stores.

    Imaginary Friend – if blogs are going to be taken seriously, they have to do a better job at adhering to basic ethical journalistic standards. I’m sure the editors here would love nothing more than to be taken seriously, they practically crap their pants every time they get on television. They are DYING to have any amount of credibility.

  29. Mr. Gunn says:

    I think it’s worth reminding people that they’re contributing to a database of children, complete with addresses and birthdays. I hope there’s no child-molester hackers around!

  30. Imaginary_Friend says:

    @Mr. Gunn: Or working in the BABW stores.

    @thejbs: Oh, please; many real journalists in this country aren’t even adhering to basic journalistic standards. It makes me sick to read the papers or watch the so-called news these days. Between the never-ending stories about Britney Spears and the calculated manipulation of the public dialogue by the media conglomerates, basic journalistic standards are in short supply.

    Enter the Consumerist. The Consumerist, imo, is a “news blog” much like The Daily Show is a “news show”. It takes real news and newsworthy headlines, mixes it up with humor and a dash of irreverance before spitting it back into the face of the corporate lackies and spin doctors who think there’s absolutely nothing wrong with cheating and lying to us. As far as I’m concerned, the gloves are off. If it takes a satirist blog like the Consumerist to publicly shame these companies into doing the right thing, then so be it.

  31. christoj879 says:

    Oh come on, who really gives a f**k?! So they’re going to advertise, so is everybody else, if you don’t like it, go live on Sealand and stop bothering me about how you teach your kid to eat MRE’s and live in the basement and crap in a chemical toilet in a trashcan because the man is on his way to send you coupons.

  32. thejbs says:

    @Imaginary_Friend: wow, you’re really living in a fantasy land here with the belief that the whole world exists for your idiotic entertainment. ‘Satirist blog’??? Editors are you hearing this? Isn’t this suppose to be a factual blog with consumer news and advocacy? I know this is a gawker media site but I hope this isn’t your core demographic… Britney? wtf????

  33. riverstyxxx says:

    I always knew there was something sinister about that bear store. Those people were always smiling at me, now I know what they were thinking all along.

  34. Imaginary_Friend says:

    @thejbs: . <—— [The Point]
    [:-P <—–That’s you missing it.]

  35. thejbs says:

    must have pasted that from your favorite emoticon zingers scrapbook.