Data Privacy For Children
December 19, 2012

FTC Looks To Strengthen Online Privacy For Children

Peter Suciu for — Your Universe Online

No one is happy when their privacy is compromised, but children have very little understanding of the dangers that can be associated with it. This week, the FTC is looking at ways to ensure new rules can keep up with ever-changing technology.

This week the Federal Trade Commission adopted final amendments to the Children´s Online Privacy Protection Rule which will strengthen child privacy protections while also giving parents greater control over personal information websites and online services collect from users under 13.

The law had not been updated since 1998, before the era of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter and long before children commonly had their own mobile phones.

“That was another era,” Sen. John Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said during an event today on Capitol Hill and reported on “The original COPPA never anticipated the exponential growth of the mobile marketplace.”

“COPPA never anticipated the widespread availability and popularity of software, otherwise known as apps, that are installed on these smartphones,” Rockefeller added. “COPPA never fully appreciated the third-party companies ... who make their living off grinding out, through various technological tricks, private information about kids 12 and under.”

The FTC has been reviewing COPPA in an effort to bring it more in line with the technologies, not to mention realities, of 2012. Nor has the FTC rushed into this, but has asked for public comments since 2010.

In September of 2011 the FTC released several thousand recommendations for how COPPA might be updated and opened up the discussion. The FTC received more than 350 comments and released updated recommendations this past August. The agency´s final recommendations will go into effect on July 1, 2013.

Among the key points include final amendments that would modify the list of “personal information,” which cannot be collected without parental notice or consent. This would also clarify the category to include geographical location information, photographs and videos; while also offering companies a streamlined, voluntary and transparent approval process for getting said parental consent.

The measures would close a loophole that allowed kid-directed apps and websites to permit third parties to collect personal information from children through plug-ins without parental notice and consent. They would extend coverage in some of those cases so the third parties doing the additional collection would also have to comply with COPPA.

The new amendments will strengthen FTC oversight of self-regulatory safe harbor programs, while extending COPPA rules to cover persistent identifiers that can recognize users over time and across different websites or online services, such as IP addresses and mobile device IDs.

The new measures will require website operators adopt reasonable procedures for data retention and deletion, and providers take reasonable steps to release children´s personal information only to companies capable of keeping it secure and confidential.

“The Commission takes seriously its mandate to protect children´s online privacy in this ever-changing technological landscape,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz in a statement. “I am confident that the amendments to the COPPA Rule strike the right balance between protecting innovation that will provide rich and engaging content for children, and ensuring that parents are informed and involved in their children´s online activities.”

This FTC update also comes after the release of a report that found app makers are failing to provide parents with adequate information about how their apps collect and distribute information about children.