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December 20, 2012

Children's Online Privacy Strengthened by FTC, Parents Get More Control

By Ed Silverstein, TMCnet Contributor

U.S. children will get more online privacy after the Federal Trade Commission (FTC (News - Alert)) approved amendments to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA).

As a result, parents will get added control over personal information that websites and online services can collect from children under 13 years of age, the FTC said.

The move was needed, given the increased use of social networks and mobile devices.

“The commission takes seriously its mandate to protect children’s online privacy in this ever-changing technological landscape,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz (News - Alert) said in an agency 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.”


Image via Shutterstock

Under the new regulations, personal information can’t be collected without parental notice and consent, including geo-location information, photographs and videos. Now, it is also easier to obtain parental consent. Also, a loophole was closed which had let third parties collect personal information through plugins without consent from parents. This means that the amendment will cover services that track what sites children visit and then provide the information to advertisers. But the new rules do not apply to the “Like” button used by Facebook (News - Alert).

COPPA says websites and online services targeting children less than 13 years of age need to “give notice to parents and get their verifiable consent before collecting, using, or disclosing such personal information, and keep secure the information they collect from children.  It also prohibits them from conditioning children’s participation in activities on the collection of more personal information than is reasonably necessary for them to participate,” according to the FTC statement.

The amendments will go into effect on July 1, 2013. But the amendments could be challenged by Congress or in a judicial action. Even one of the FTC commissioners was opposed to the changes.

"I believe a core provision of the amendments exceeds the scope of the authority granted us by Congress in COPPA, the statute that underlies and authorizes the rule," FTC Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen wrote in her statement.

"I do not believe that the fact that a child-directed site or online service receives any kind of benefit from using a plug-in is equivalent to the collection of personal information by the third-party plug-in on behalf of the child-directed site or online service."

The technology and media sectors lobbied against some changes to current regulations claiming they would hurt economic growth, block innovation and limit the number of online games and educational programs.

An industry group, called the Application Developers Alliance, further argues the software sector focused on children includes businesses which can't afford to pay lawyers who are needed to interpret the complex regulations.

"Ultimately it's the kids, parents and teachers who will suffer," Tim Sparapani, vice president of law policy and government relations at the alliance said.

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO Miami 2013, Jan 29- Feb. 1 in Miami, Florida.  Stay in touch with everything happening at ITEXPO (News - Alert). Follow us on Twitter.




Edited by Brooke Neuman
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