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FTC updates Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act

After 14 years without revision, some of the terms in COPPA required updating.


Fidel Martinez


Parents, your children are now safe, thanks to the Federal Trade Commission.

After 14 years, the FTC has finally announced revisions to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) that will further restrict and regulate how online entities handle and collect the private information of minors.

The old version of COPPA dictated that operators—defined as “any person who operates a website located on the Internet or an online service”—could not collect the personal information of children under the age of 13 without notifying the parents.

The law, though well intentioned, has become obsolete thanks to the advent of new online developments like Google and social media.

In August, the FTC released a document with new proposed rules that would broaden the definition of “operator” to include applications, games, ad networks, and third-party plugins.

Facebook, which would most definitely fall under the new definition of “operator,” responded by submitting a 20-page filing with the government agency arguing that the FTC’s new proposals would infringe on the First Amendment rights of children 13 and younger.

Though the FTC didn’t include Facebook’s proposed exemption into their new rules, they did make exemptions for “sites and services that target children only as a secondary audience,” meaning a company like Facebook would partially be exempt.

These operators will still be required to get permission from those users who self-identify as being younger than 13.

The new rules are a big coup for companies like Apple and Google, who get a direction mention of exemption in the new update:

“This definition [of “operators”] does not extend liability to platforms, such as Google Play or [Apple’s] the App Store, when such platforms merely offer the public access to child-directed apps.”

In addition to casting a wider net with its new definition of the term “operator,” the FTC provided further specification on what kind of information requires permission from parents.

“The definition of personal information now also includes geolocation information, as well as photos, videos, and audio files that contain a child’s image or voice.”

“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 written 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.”

Privacy advocates have largely praised the new updates to COPPA, though at least one of them did express some hesitation.

“The Commission’s decision today is a major step forward,” announced Jeff Chester, executive director for the Center for Digital Democracy, via press release. “But we are concerned about possible loopholes that could undermine the intent of the rules. CDD plans to continue closely analyzing the emerging marketing and data practices targeted at children—with a sharp focus on app developers and social marketers like Facebook—and will file complaints against any company that violates the new rules.”

The new amendments will be enforced starting July 1, 2013.

Photo via M@rg/Flickr

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