FTC eyes COPPA, mobile Web rules for possible revision

The Federal Trade Commission is now eying changes to rules that require websites to seek parental consent whenever they collect information from children under age 13.

The agency must review the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), passed in 2000, every five years as required by law. While the FTC fielded "extensive public comment" on the rule in 2005, it ultimately decided after intense debate to "retain the COPPA rule without change."

But the FTC signaled a new willingness Monday to alter some of law's wording to keep pace with changes in technology, as part of its scheduled 2010 COPPA review.

According to a notice published Monday's Federal Register, "the Commission believes that changes to the online environment over the past five years, including but not limited to children's increasing use of mobile technology to access the Internet, warrant reexamining the Rule at this time."

The agency is asking for public comment on a host of COPPA revisions, including new language that would address the rise of geo-location technology, such as the GPS installed on the iPhone, as well as behavior-based Web advertisement techniques, such as those employed by Google. The FTC hopes to discover whether those current technologies create any new privacy concerns for children browsing the Web on their personal computers or mobile phones.

But extending COPPA to that latter realm -- the mobile Web -- is perhaps the biggest question the FTC plans to address. The law's current definition of "Internet" fails to include mobile communication, so a change to that portion of the COPPA law would require a host of new procedures to protect children under age 13 on their smart phones.

According to the agency, comments are due by June 30. All of the submissions will eventually be posted online.