October 6th, 2011

House Subcommittee Vets FTC COPPA Proposals

By John Eggerton
Broadcasting & Cable

House Commerce Committee Chairman Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) said Wednesday that protecting kids from the Internet’s dark side was “one of her top priorities” as a mother and a legislator. That concern appeared to be a unanimous sentiment among the legislators and witnesses at Wednesday’s House Commerce subcommittee hearing on “Protecting Children’s Privacy in an Electronic World,” which dealt specifically the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) proposed revisions of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

The protection of their kids was a bipartisan theme as legislators talked about their own young children’s access to the Web. But there was less agreement about how to protect kids from that dark side and whether teens needed more government protection from tracking and targeting online.

Bono Mack was not ready to extend the age of COPPA’s covered kids to teenagers 13-17. The FTC is proposing requiring those collecting data from teenagers to get their permission, rather than their parents. “While some privacy advocates would like to raise the COPPA age threshold because of an increasing use of social networking sites by teenagers, such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+, I believe the FTC showed common-sense restraint in taking a ‘go-slow’ approach. The last thing we want to do is to inhibit technological advancements and stifle growth of the Internet by moving forward in a new policy area without a really good, smart game plan in place. I look forward to having this particular debate in the months ahead as we continue our broader hearings on privacy.”

COPPA prohibits Web sites targeted to kids from collecting the personal information of kids under 13 without their parents permission, and other sites from such collections if “have actual knowledge” that a user is under 13 and they do not have parental consent.  Sites also have to publish notice on the site of what info they are collecting, using or disclosing and provides a safe harbor for for those in compliance with the act.

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