Calls to Toughen Children’s Privacy Law Meet Opposition

As children spend more of their lives on the internet, the call for toughening privacy laws that regulate how companies collect and retain information from minors is gaining strength. The recently proposed expansion of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act is an attempt by the FTC to address this concern.

The Federal Trade Commission is insisting that the changes are not a rewrite of the law, but merely are an attempt to clarify provisions that deal with information collected by advertisers on websites directed at minors. At the moment, the proposed revisions have been unveiled and the agency is now collecting public comments on the proposal.

The FTC recently proposed expanding COPPA, which limits what personal information a developer can collect from a child without parental consent. The changes are meant to “clarify responsibility under COPPA when third parties such as advertising networks…collect personal information from users through child-directed websites or services,” according to the FTC’s call for public comment.

The proposed revisions could further restrict the collection of analytics, or information about how a user interacts with an app. Some analytics could help educational app developers learn which parts of the app children are struggling with, for example.

Some of the first to weigh in were consortia representing web developers and designers of apps typically deployed on tablets and smart phones. According to the Association for Competitive Technology, an organization that represents developers who write apps aimed at the education market, the cost of complying with the new provisions could set the industry back as much as $271 million. ACT said that the educational app market is mostly made up of small companies or even single developers that would be unable to afford to spend an average of $9,000 per app to make sure that their product complies with the expanded law.

Internet mainstays like Facebook, Twitter and Google have also gone on the record opposing the new provisions. In a response filing with the FTC, the companies accused the agency of failing to consider the relationship between plug-in developers and website publishers. In effect, imposing the new rules would hold hosts responsible for the content provided by their partners.

Google said the new rules would “undermine the ability of sites and services to provide engaging online resources to children. COPPA should not become a barrier to children’s ability to access appropriate and beneficial online resources for education and entertainment.”

However, supporters of tougher regulations are arguing that the hands-off approach most hosts take with the advertising content they publish is simply a choice they make rather than an operational necessity.

“The fact of the matter is, there is information being collected from children through child-directed Web sites and online services, and the question is who should be responsible,” said Phyllis Marcus, a senior staff lawyer at the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. The FTC aims to finalize new rules by the end of the year.