A Federal Trade Commission proposal to update the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act got largely positive reviews from both Democrat and Republican members of a House subcommittee at a hearing today.
Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.), who chairs the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade, said the FTC hit the “sweet spot” in proposing the privacy rule changes, and ranking minority member Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) praised the FTC for exercising its authority “carefully and deliberately.”
The privacy law, which is often referred to as COPPA, was passed in 1998 and requires operators of websites or online services directed to children under 13 to obtain verifiable consent from parents before collecting, using, or disclosing information from children.
“The commission takes seriously the challenge to ensure that COPPA continues to meet its originally stated goals, even as children’s interactive media use moves and changes at warp speed,” Mary Engle, the associate director for advertising practices of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, told the subcommittee.
The FTC has proposed five changes to rules implementing the law. Among them: updating the definition of “personal information” to include geolocation information and certain types of persistent identifiers, such as tracking cookies; streamlining and clarifying the direct notice that operators must give parents before collecting children’s personal information; adding new methods to obtain verifiable parental consent; and eliminating the “email plus” method of parental consent, which allows operators to obtain consent through an email to the parent, coupled with an additional confirmation.
Subcommitee members—in between expressing their personal ineptitude at putting parental controls on their smartphones and home computers—had few objections, though Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) did caution that downloadable applications have been “a bright spot in the American economy. There’s got to be a proper balance.”
The proposal to crack down on data that would reveal a child’s physical location won particular support. As COPPA co-author Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who is not a member of the subcommittee but attended the hearing, said, “There’s a potential for this sensitive data to be misused to endanger a child. Children should be able to grow up in an electronic oasis…a safe environment.”
The FTC to date has brought 17 enforcement actions under COPPA and collected more than $6.2 million in civil penalties.