October 4, 2012
Kids Privacy Online Again A Hot Topic After Artist Arena Debacle
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
According to the FTC, the operator of the web sites BieberFever.com, SelenaGomez.com, RhiannaNow.com and DemiLovatoFanClub.com has been collecting a lot of personal information about the roughly 101,000 children who frequent the sites, including names, birthdays, email addresses, cell phone numbers and, in some cases, even street addresses. As a result, the FTC is also now in the process of increasing regulations concerning children´s privacy online, causing some popular web services to cry ℠foul´ and catapulting the issue of kids privacy online once again into the public spotlight.
Artist Arena, the company that runs the websites in question has agreed to pay a $1 million civil penalty to settle these charges. Each of the 101,000 kids are under 12 years of age, and according to a law called the Children´s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), websites must first ask for parental consent before gathering any of this information.
In order to sign up for special sections or services — such as newsletters and fan forums — the children were asked to register with the websites, which required the personal information. According to the FTC complaint, because Artist Arena requested information about birthdays, they were fully aware of how many children were under 12 years old.
According to COPPA, Web sites are required by law to give special treatment to children who are 12 years old or younger as well as notify parents whenever a child´s information is collected.
“These were fan sites that knew that a very substantial percentage of users were 12 or under,” said David C. Vladeck, speaking to the New York Times. Vladeck is the director of the FTC´s bureau of consumer protection.
“There is really no excuse for violations like these,” he continued.
Artist Arena is a division of Warner Brothers Music Group, which manages a number of artist fan pages. The company has neither admitted nor denied fault in this case, and has instead chosen to simply pay out their settlement. As a result, all sites operated by Artist Arena will no longer collect information from children under the age of 13.
As the FTC works to strengthen these COPPA regulations, sites like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and others are suddenly finding themselves under renewed scrutiny. As such, they´ve filed written complaints about the newly proposed regulations.
Social plugins are now ubiquitous across the net, though they were nonexistent when COPPA was written in 1998. The FTC is now concerned that children´s information is being collected every time they use these plugins to give a thumbs up “like” to a website or to tweet an image from another site.
“The fact of the matter is, there is information being collected from children through child-directed Web sites and online services, and the question is who should be responsible,” said Phyllis Marcus, senior staff lawyer at the FTC´s bureau of consumer protection, speaking with the Washington Post.
Under the new regulations, the owners of these plugins — Facebook and Twitter being two of the most popular — will be responsible for asking permission from these children´s parents before they collect their data. These companies claim that this could be a nearly impossible task to undertake. Facebook has been particularly firm in arguing that this restriction would actually take away these young peoples´ right to free speech.
"A government regulation that restricts teens' ability to engage in protected speech — as the proposed COPPA Rule would do — raises issues under the First Amendment," argued the company in their 20-page letter of complaint.