FTC looks to update children's internet privacy rules

FTC looks to update children's internet privacy rules
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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is looking to update its rules on internet privacy for children after renewed concerns about how tech companies are catering to, and collecting data on, young internet users.

The five FTC commissioners voted unanimously to seek public input on updating its regulations on the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which went into effect nearly 20 years ago.

“In light of rapid technological changes that impact the online children’s marketplace, we must ensure COPPA remains effective,” FTC Chairman Joseph Simons said in a statement on Wednesday. “We’re committed to strong COPPA enforcement, as well as industry outreach and a COPPA business hotline to foster a high level of COPPA compliance. But we also need to regularly revisit and, if warranted, update the Rule.”

The agency usually reviews its regulations every 10 years, and the last time it looked into the children’s privacy law was in 2013. In a draft notice to be published in the federal register, the FTC said it was launching a review early “because of questions that have arisen about the Rule’s application to the educational technology sector, to voice-enabled connected devices, and to general audience platforms that host third-party child-directed content.”

Under COPPA, websites must obtain parental consent before collecting data on children under 13.

The move comes as the FTC is said to be nearing a settlement with YouTube over whether its handling of children’s videos violated the act.

The investigation into YouTube came after consumer groups and children’s advocates complained that the Google-owned company was routinely allowing the collection of children’s data in violation of COPPA. Critics have made similar allegations against Amazon’s smart devices made for children.

And the FTC has been the subject of mounting criticism from many who believe that it is unwilling to enforce the law.

Josh Golin, the executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which has been among the outspoken critics of large tech companies' handling of children's content, believes that the FTC is falling short.

"We’re concerned that this initiative is being driven by industry forces who hope to weaken COPPA ahead of the 2020 elections," Golin said in a statement to The Hill. "COPPA’s rules could use some updating, but the FTC has the authority right now to protect kids under COPPA. They can wield that power with their upcoming decision on YouTube — but news reports say the Commission will slap them on the wrist. Which would send a clear message to Big Tech — it’s always open season on kids."

“COPPA is the constitution for children’s privacy online, and as its author I have consistently advocated for thoughtful updates to the existing COPPA regime to keep pace with technological changes and emerging threats to kids,” Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyLawmakers commemorate one-year anniversary of Arbery's killing Democrats revive debate over calling impeachment witnesses LIVE COVERAGE: Senate trial moves to closing arguments MORE (D-Mass.) added in a statement Thursday. “But if the Commission is truly serious about protecting young people online, it will enforce existing protections, hold violators accountable no matter how powerful they are, and act as a forceful check against the ever-increasing appetite for children’s data.”

—Updated at 4:48 p.m.