Privacy activists hit FTC over kids' rules

Privacy advocates are criticizing the Federal Trade Commission for what they call lax oversight of laws designed to protect children’s privacy.

The Center for Digital Democracy and Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood on Tuesday filed comments with the FTC accusing AgeCheq — a company offering a service that lets parents allow websites to collect some information about children under 13 years old — of deceiving customers and violating the law.

By not investigating the company, the groups claimed, the FTC is relinquishing its duty to protect children.

“Today’s complex ‘Big Data’ digital marketing era, where we can be tracked and targeted when we use mobile phones, apps, and social media, requires the FTC to do a better job protecting the privacy of children,” Center for Digital Democracy executive director Jeff Chester said in a statement.

“The commission is statutorily required under COPPA [the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act] to do so, including ensuring that parents can make effective decisions about the process.”

His group, Chester added, “believes the FTC must do a better job enforcing COPPA. Otherwise it is failing to lead on privacy.”

Under COPPA, companies need to get parents’ permission before they collect any data about their children.

AgeCheq is trying to get approval for one of its services to count as a “verifiable parental consent” tool, making it easy for companies to comply with the law.

But the company advertises itself as free and comprehensive, the groups claimed, when it actually requires small charges and does not check all the boxes under the law.

That and other flaws amount to a violation of the law and unfair treatment to parents, they said.  

The FTC has placed an increased focus on children’s use of apps. It recently took action against Yelp and app developer TinyCo for illegally collecting children’s data without getting their parents’ consent.