FTC Tightens Children’s Online Privacy Rules

Comments on updates due in 30 days

The Federal Trade Commission proposed updates this morning to its children's online privacy rules and tighter regulations that seem aimed directly at Facebook.

The proposed rules, in review for about a year, would amend the 1998 law known as the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. That law requires online sites targeting children under the age of 13 to get parental consent before collecting personal information from them.

The FTC proposed the changes after reviewing 350 comments, and interested parties have 30 days to comment on the proposed modifications.

Although the FTC has brought more than a dozen cases under the current law, privacy advocates have argued that the rules haven't kept pace with technology advances. As Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) is fond of pointing out, Coppa was passed before Facebook. Markey and Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) have been pushing for stricter laws by introducing the Do Not Track Kids Act. 

The new rules will make it a lot more difficult for ad networks and Facebook—which is reportedly considering a children's version of its social network—from tracking or targeting kids.

The commission proposed an expansion of the definition of a website or online serviced directed to children to include plug-ins and ad networks. Child-directed sites or services that have kids under 13 as their primary audience—or whose content is likely to attract youngsters under 13—must still treat all users as children.

The commission also proposed expanding the definition of what is considered personal information to include any persistent identifier that could track children over different websites or services.

Among the changes, Facebook, ad networks and other third parties could be held legally responsible if they collect personal data from children.

Privacy advocates cheered the proposed changes because they will "rein in the data brokers targeting kids who use social media, so called "plug-ins," said Jeff Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. "The rules capture the real-time targeting system that is the heard of online advertising today. This is a major step forward."

Though Facebook argued against rules that could limit the use of its "like" button, the social network took the high road in an emailed comment on the FTC's proposal. "While Facebook’s policies prohibit children under the age of 13 from signing up for our service, we are committed to improving protections for all young people online and helping them benefit from new services and technologies. We commend the Commission for leading this thoughtful review process and we look forward to evaluating its most recent proposal," the company said.

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