The Federal Trade Commission recently proposed stricter online privacy rules to make PDA’s, tablets and smartphones safer for children to use and to bar advertising networks and websites from collecting information on children without their parents’ consent.
This represents the latest in a string of updates to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) which requires websites to take measures to protect children under 13 years old. COPPA was passed before the advent of mobile devices, popular apps and tablets. Therefore, the FTC has had to enact additional rules to make sure that the newer technologies comply with COPPA’s intent.
In its proposal for the newest guidelines, the FTC stated that COPPA
did not foresee how easy and commonplace it would become for child-directed services to integrate social networking and other personal information collection features into the content offered to their users, without maintaining ownership, control, or access to the personal data.
Given these changes in technology the Commission now believes that an operator of a child-directed site or service that chooses to integrate into a site or service other services that collect personal information from its visitors should be considered a covered operator under the rule.
The newest FTC proposal clarifies that an ad network or “plug-in” such as Facebook’s “Like” button and smartphone app manufacturers must obtain parental consent before data can be collected about children under 13.
Without these FTC guidelines, social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter can circumvent parental consent to collect data from children’s sites by using its “Like” button. The new guidelines clarify that a person’s location is considered personal information that app makers cannot collect from children absent parental consent.
Even though children under 13 are not permitted to sign up for Facebook, many under-age children do so anyway. The age restriction is easily circumvented on Facebook because there is no real policing of this age restriction. Anyway, Facebook is rumored to be opening up its social network to children under 13 in the near future, something they would have to set up in a way that allows for parental consent.
The latest proposed FTC guidelines are set to go into effect after September 10, 2012. Until that time, the FTC is accepting feedback regarding the newest guidelines. This represents part of a bigger overhaul of COPPA rules which are expected by the end of 2012.
Child and consumer privacy advocates are disappointed with the proposed new FTC guidelines, claiming that they do not go far enough. They claim that advertisers can do an “end-run” around the new rules by attaching themselves to websites geared towards children without notifying parents and children clearly of their presence.