December 20, 2012 in Nation/World

FTC strengthens kids’ online privacy rules

Jessica Guynn Los Angeles Times

Federal regulators have taken the first major step in nearly 15 years to strengthen the protection of kids’ online privacy.

The Federal Trade Commission said Wednesday that it has given parents greater control over the information that online services collect from kids 12 and under.

The changes don’t go as far as originally proposed after heavy lobbying from the technology and media industry, which said the changes would hamper economic growth, stifle innovation, and limit the scope and number of online games and educational programs for kids.

The FTC began a review of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, in 2010. It said the law needed to catch up with the advances in technology and the explosion of mobile devices.

“I am confident that the amendments to the COPPA Rule strike the right balance between protecting innovation that will provide rich and engaging content for children, and ensuring that parents are informed and involved in their children’s online activities,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a statement.

Among the steps it has taken, the FTC has made it clear that a child’s location, photographs and videos cannot be collected without a parent’s permission. It also closed a loophole that allowed mobile applications and websites to permit third parties to collect personal information from kids without notifying or obtaining the consent of parents.

It also extended kids’ privacy rules to cover IP addresses, mobile device IDs and other means of identifying a user, requiring services to take “reasonable steps” to release kids’ information only to companies that can keep it “secure and confidential.”

Privacy watchdogs issued statements of support for the rule changes.

“We are at a critical moment in the growth of the children’s digital marketplace as social networks, mobile phones and gaming platforms become an increasingly powerful presence in the lives of young people,” said Kathryn Montgomery, professor of communications at American University. “The new rules should help ensure that companies targeting children throughout the rapidly expanding digital media landscape will be required to engage in fair marketing and data collection practices.”

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