FTC sets new rules to protect kids’ online privacy despite industry objections
The Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday announced a set of broad new rules aimed at protecting children’s privacy when they visit websites or use mobile Internet applications, after making some modifications based on objections from leading tech and entertainment companies.
The new rules would require those businesses to obtain parental consent before collecting photos, videos or location information from children younger than 13. It applies the same rule to using cookies or other digital codes to track the online activity of children under 13, even if the services don’t know the child’s name.
The commission is also adding Internet advertising networks, operators of mobile applications, and major Internet platforms such as Facebook to the list of businesses that are liable for practices that result in gathering information from children without their parents’ consent.
But in one departure from an earlier proposal, the commission said operators of “third-party plug-ins,” such as the Facebook “like” button that appears on a wide variety of websites, are not liable unless they have “actual knowledge” that they are collecting personal information through a site directed at kids. The commission also decided not to make operators of online app stores, such as the Google Play or Apple iTunes markets, liable for the practices of apps directed at children.
Children’s privacy advocates say the changes are long overdue, in an era when studies show that online businesses and advertisers are able to gather a wide range of data about an individual’s browsing habits, and use that information to deliver targeted advertising.
The new rules mean that “parents — not social networks or marketers — will remain the gatekeepers when it comes to their children’s privacy not only online, but also on phones,” said James Steyer of the children’s advocacy group Common Sense Media.
But major Internet advertising companies such as Facebook and Google, as well as entertainment companies including Viacom and Disney, had argued that the rules would impose unreasonable and disruptive requirements.
Facebook and Google, which operate services that place advertising and “plug-in” software on a variety of sites operated by other companies, also objected that it was unreasonable to make them liable for the practices of those other sites.
Regulators and members of Congress, however, said the rules are necessary to update a 1998 law known as the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA.
“The original COPPA rule never anticipated the exponential growth of the mobile marketplace, with advanced smartphones that are so powerful that allow parents and children to access the Internet at any time,” said Sen. John D. Rockefeller of West Virginia, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, at an event where the FTC announced the rules. “The new COPPA rules capture the new online reality.”
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