February 28, 2024

F.T.C. Wants to Update Rules on Children’s Online Privacy

Aiming to catch up with fast-churning technology that touches children’s lives every day, the Federal Trade Commission on Thursday proposed long-awaited changes to regulations covering online privacy for children.

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or Coppa, was enacted over a decade ago, long before the advent of social media and smartphones. It requires companies to obtain parental consent before collecting any personal information about a child under the age of 13.

The proposed revisions expand the definition of “personal information” to include a child’s location, along with any personal data collected through the use of cookies for the purposes of targeted advertising. It also covers facial recognition technology. Web sites that collect a child’s information would be required to ensure that they can protect it, hold onto it “for only as long as is reasonably necessary,” and then delete the information safely.

The F.T.C. also suggested that parental consent should no longer be obtained through a two-step e-mail and authorization process, but through alternate methods, like getting scanned versions of signed consent forms and videoconferencing.

The commission said revisions to the law were required in light of “an explosion in children’s use of mobile devices, the proliferation of online social networking and interactive gaming.” Its chairman, Jon Leibowitz, described children as “tech-savvy, but judgment-poor.”

The collecting of information on children is an emotional issue that often attracts political attention. The F.T.C. has called for comments on its proposals and is expected to finalize them next year. It can put them into effect without Congressional approval.

Coppa represents one of the most explicit protections regarding online privacy in American law. The F.T.C. is expected to release its final recommendations for broader online privacy regulations in the coming months.

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington and a privacy advocate who helped draft the original law, said he was especially heartened that the rules addressed new technology that allows for location-tracking and facial recognition. “It’s a forward-looking effort to update Internet privacy law,” he said.

Common Sense Media, an advocacy group based in San Francisco, lauded the proposed changes, saying parents “should absolutely remain the gatekeepers when it comes to their children’s online privacy.”

Whether the changes will affect the way Internet companies do business is not clear. Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University, said that because of the existing law, many firms, especially start-ups, avoid dealing with children under 13 anyway. “The requirements of complying with Coppa are onerous and expensive, and the payoffs from having under-13 kids on the site are rarely worth the financial investment,” he said. “The revisions do nothing to change the basic economics of complying with the statute.”

Enforcement is another issue. Facebook says its policy is to not allow children under 13 to use its site, but that it is fraught with difficulty because children lie about their age. Research by Consumer Reports this year found that 7.5 million American children under the age of 13 were using the site. The Pew Research Center in 2009 found that 38 percent of American 12-year-olds were using social networks.

A Facebook official who is not authorized to speak to the media because of the sensitivity of the subject called on parents to advise their children about being safe online. “We believe it is time to focus on how to keep kids safe online and on Facebook, rather than on how to keep them off,” he said. Company officials said they are reviewing the F.T.C.’s proposals.

The F.T.C. this year imposed a $50,000 fine on W3 Innovations, a company that produces mobile phone apps, for collecting personal information on children without proper parental consent.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=0525e70ff020198f04d03927eef2a72e

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