'Outdated' Child Data Rules to Change: FTC

Dennis Faas's picture

A government agency wants to overhaul the rules limiting how websites collect personal data about children. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says the changes would make the rules much clearer and more effective.

The current regulations stem from the Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA), which took effect in 2000 and currently applies to sites aimed at children under 13 years of age.

As the rules stand, websites must clearly explain to both children and parents what data they will collect about children and how they plan to use it.

Such sites must also get parental commission before using this data; for example, to send newsletters to a child.

Most controversially, the rules require websites that intend to share such data with any third party to obtain a "more reliable method of consent." This can include a signed form in the mail, a credit card, or oral permission given in a phone call.

Old Rules Deemed Unworkable

Critics of these rules say they are so severe and unworkable that many sites simply ignore them, undermining any benefits they may have. For this reason, the FTC began a consultation on potential changes last year, and received 350 responses.

The agency has now published its proposed changes. (Source: ftc.gov)

One of the big changes: sites that are aimed at a family audience will no longer need to treat every visitor as if they are under age 13. Instead, they could explicitly ask each visitor for their age, and won't have to follow the stringent rules when dealing with adults.

However, sites that are specifically aimed at young children would still be required to treat all visitors as if they were children.

The rules would also be changed to clarify that sites can use a child's personal information for:

  • Site maintenance
  • Implementing a user name and password system
  • Storing a user's preferences, such as a favorite sport on a sports news site.

Personalized Advertising Still Restricted

Under the proposed rules, companies could deliver contextual advertising to children (such as advertising running shoes on a page with an athletics article).

However, they could not deliver behavioral advertising (such as showing a soccer game ad on the home page of a child who regularly reads soccer articles).

Another big change would be that third-party advertisers would have to follow the stringent rules if they know a child will see their advertising.

For example, if a site has a Facebook "Like" button on a page, Facebook would also be responsible for following the rules protecting children, should the child click on the button. (Source: talkingpointsmemo.com)

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