New Rules Proposed to Protect Children’s Privacy Online
At one time, parenting was a lot simpler. All parents had to worry about was their child’s behavior in school, on the playground or around the dinner table. Children lived in protected, limited universes and interactions were face-to-face.
Today, because of computers, tablets and smartphones, children have vastly-expanded universes, and many of their interactions are virtual. Parents must worry about their child’s behavior online, and also about how others are tracking that behavior.
Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act
In an effort to give parents some control over the collection and use of private information about their children online, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) was passed in 1998. It requires operators of websites used by children to obtain parental consent before they collect personal information like phone numbers, physical addresses or email addresses from users under age 13.
When COPPA was enacted, children’s online activity was likely limited to a desktop computer in the home. This was six years before the launch of Facebook. Today, most children carry with them at all times a device that can access the Internet. Privacy concerns have changed dramatically.
Since COPPA, children have become more sophisticated about online activities and advertisers have become more sophisticated about tracking these activities. Especially popular are games that promote brand-name food or toy products, and apps where children can submit a photo of themselves that is then inserted into a photo with an admired figure, like a Disney character or a pop star.
According to a Pew Research Center study published November 2012, 81 percent of parents are worried about what advertisers can learn about their child’s online behavior.
Revisions to COPPA
To address these changes in children’s use of the Internet since COPPA was first enacted, the Federal Trade Commission in August 2012 issued a revised set of proposed rules regarding implementation of COPPA. These new rules will likely take effect in 2013.
The proposed changes would tighten rules governing websites that collect information about children, requiring parental permission for common practices like using cookies to track online activities, tracking physical location via mobile phone or acceptance of photographs submitted by children under 13. They will apply to third-party advertising networks as well as developers of apps and plug-ins.