Build-A-Bear's private information seduction system

Cyberlawyer Denise Howell sez, "As far as I could tell, the same parents driving themselves to distraction with fear over their evening chardonnays about MySpace and FaceBook are willingly helping their kids fork over a slew of personal data when they visit Build-A-Bear. It's hard to fault them too much though, as the computers there masquerade as anything but a corporate info-racket."
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!!"
Link (Thanks, Denise!)


  1. Another reason why there will never be a law criminalizing the corporate mishandling of personal information.

  2. I would certainly hope that everybody would see through this — and any other loyalty and/or personalization (read: data-collection) these days. I used it as an opportunity to talk with my daughter about who to give out our address and phone number to.

  3. I think that y’all are over-reacting a little here.

    They actually use this data for good, not evil. As I understand it, each bear has its own unique ID number. If someone loses their bear, and someone else finds it and turns it into the shop, the shop can look up that number, find the child’s name, address, and phone number, and contact them to let them know that their bear is OK.

    Every bit of information that’s listed in the excerpt can be used for good: Contact info for returning lost bears, birthday for sending birthday cards, and gender for personalizing messages sent from the company to the child.

    And seriously, if you’re worried that the Build-a-Bear Workshop knows that your little Sally is a girl, you’ve got paranoia issues.


    Yeah but you could still do all those good things with only an email address. IF my bear is lost, email me, and I’ll email you my home address. What if build-a-bear employs someone that they shouldn’t? They get access to my kid’s data?

  5. “They actually use this data for good, not evil. As I understand it, each bear has its own unique ID number. If someone loses their bear, and someone else finds it and turns it into the shop, the shop can look up that number, find the child’s name, address, and phone number, and contact them to let them know that their bear is OK.”

    Hmm…so that’s what they use it for. I’d like to know just how often someone loses a stuffed animal and someone not only finds it but returns it to a Build-A-Bear store. Seems fairly unlikely and a convoluted process for a lost toy.

    My daughter loves Build-a-Bear but the counter clerk always gives us this strange look when we check out with the the birth certificate. And I’m always thinking, hey I just dropped $80 on a stuffed animal and accessories. If we don’t want the birth certificate, let it go.

    I’ve offered to let my daughter get the birth certificate, but she takes my view that it’s a hassle because typically all of the computer stations are in use and she just wants to go play with the bear, not fill out electronic forms.

  6. If supposedly “primitive” societies don’t find it difficult to raise their children with the understanding that one NEVER gives out one’s True Name (to foil sorcery), why is it so hard for us?

  7. As the uncle of a ever-more tech savvy seven-and-a-half year old (seriously, the kid schooled me in Wii Bowling), I wonder how much of other online-affiliated kids toys and games imbed more info than is necessary (or, depending on your definition of “necessary,” appropriate), and what is done with said info after the fact. With the growing trend, including such fads as Neopets and Webkins, I’d say it’s less a question of if than when some skeevy fuck perpetrates a violation. Conversely, consumer profiling could begin in the womb and dogs one for life, which is in its way almost a greater violation.

    I actually came close to working at a Build-A-Bear in NYC a couple years back. I think they’re generally looking for women, though. Guys like stuffed aminals, too! *sob*

  8. I suppose that parents’ fear of MySpace and Facebook is about protecting their children from sexual predators and other would-be miscreants – i.e. other users. Most parents are probably not so concerned with protecting their children from MySpace and Facebook themselves. Same would hold true for Build-a-Bear.

  9. Unfortunately, just like many of these blogs, people have posted who really have no idea what they are talking about. In fact, the only reason I signed up for this discussion board was to set the facts straight. I have worked at Build-a-Bear for over five years, and I would like to think I know a little something about all this. So:

    Build-a-Bear Workshop DOES NOT ask for anyone’s phone number on our Name Me computers. Never have, never will.

    The information on these computers is uploaded to the main database nightly, so each employee really has very little opportunity to go back and take our guests’ information. Besides, once their personalized barcode leaves the store with their new stuffed animal, there is absolutely no way to go back and find that guest’s personal information.

    We actually do get about 1000 animals per year returned to Headquarters and sent back to guests’ homes. That may not seem like a lot, but it certainly is more than you would think. It seems some people really do recognize the Build-a-Bear name as wholesomen and a safe place for kids.

    If a guest wants to, they can skip every bit of information asked on the Name Me computers. The only thing they need to fill out is their animal’s name and their first name. That’s it!!

    Overall, this “personal” information is much, much less than required by many other websites and stores, and there is no reason that parents should be afraid that Build-a-Bear is using their information.

  10. In this new build-a-bear site that’s kind of like club penguin, you type in the id number or something and you can play with your stuffed animal online.

  11. There is no rule the information must be that of the child who is receiving the bear. All of my daughter’s birth certificates are printed with my name, date of birth, etc.

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