FTC seeks comment on important online privacy changes

Parental Notice: The amendments would streamline and clarify the direct notice that operators must give parents before collecting children’s personal information. The proposed revisions will ensure that parents receive key information in a succinct “just-in-time” notice, and not just in a privacy policy.

Parental Consent Mechanisms: The FTC also proposes adding new ways to collect verifiable parental consent, including electronic scans of signed parental consent forms, video conferencing, and checking government-issued identification against a database, as long as the parent’s ID is deleted promptly after verification. The amendment also would eliminate a less-reliable method of parental consent, known as “eMail plus.”

Confidentiality and Security Requirements: To better protect children’s personal information, the FTC would strengthen COPPA’s current confidentiality and security requirements by adding a requirement that operators ensure that any service providers or third parties to whom they disclose a child’s personal information have in place reasonable procedures to protect it, that operators retain the information only for as long as is “reasonably necessary,” and that they properly delete that information by taking reasonable measures to protect against unauthorized access to, or use in connection with, its disposal.

Safe Harbor: The FTC proposes to strengthen its oversight of self-regulatory “safe harbor programs” by requiring them to audit their members at least annually and report the results of those audits.

“The FTC is doing a consummate job in proposing new provisions in response to the changing nature of the technology, as well as working to educate parents on protecting their children’s privacy,” said Stephen Balkam, CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute, in testimony during the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade Hearing.

Balkam said that, should Congress take additional steps to ensure children’s online privacy, lawmakers could “increase funding for internet safety and privacy education in schools, as well as for research into children’s online behaviors and attitudes.”

“Kids today are becoming more tech-savvy at a younger and younger age,” said Subcommittee Chair Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif. “But that exposure to exciting, new, sophisticated devices and countless websites located around the world doesn’t necessarily mean that they are going to have any better judgment or make them any more aware of what dangers might lurk online.”

Bono Mack said the FTC, as well as parents, must continue to make sure children’s privacy is protected even as technology changes.

Some have suggested that COPPA’s age threshold should be increased to include children older than 13, while others have pushed back, saying that such changes would place undue limitations on older students’ ability to harness the power of the internet for learning and innovating.

Laura Ascione

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