Castor, Schakowsky seek information on children’s online safety program

Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) is seen at a House Energy and Commerce Committee oversight hearing of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Tuesday, July 27, 2021.
Greg Nash

Reps. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) are seeking information about enforcement of children’s online safety regulations from six privacy compliance organizations.

The Democrats on Monday said they sent a letter to the organizations with questions aimed at ensuring they are fulfilling their obligation to provide protection for children as tasked by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) Safe Harbor program. 

The lawmakers underscored the need to better understand and regulate the Safe Harbor program in light of recent reports based on leaked internal Facebook documents about the impact of Instagram on teen users, especially young girls.

The documents were first reported by The Wall Street Journal, and Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower who leaked them, later testified before Congress about the internal research amongst other documents. 

“Often parents are forced to make quick judgments about the safety of a website or app and a stamp of approval from a safe harbor deeming a site compliant with COPPA can make a significant difference in whether parents allow their children to use it. These problems are further exacerbated as children are increasingly required to use online resources for educational, informational, and other essential purposes. Therefore, it is critical that COPPA Safe Harbor organizations are working as intended,” Castor and Schakowsky wrote.

COPPA includes a provision that allows industry groups to submit self-regulatory guidelines to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as part of a Safe Harbor program. The program lists Children’s Advertising Review Unit, Entertainment Software Rating Board, iKeepSafe, kidSAFE, Privacy Vaults Online, Inc. and TRUSTe — all of which received Castor and Schakowsky’s letter. 

Former Federal Trade Commissioner Rohit Chopra, who now directs the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, criticized the program in the past and has called for Congress to ramp up oversight of the program. Castor and Schakowsky cited Chopra’s critical remarks in their letter requesting more information from the groups in the program. 

The lawmakers requested details about how the organizations operate under the program, as well as suggestions about how Congress can amend COPPA to improve the Safe Harbor program. 

The letter comes as lawmakers continue to spotlight concerns about children’s safety and data privacy online. In July, Castor reintroduced a proposal which would strengthen the protections laid out under COPPA.

Tags Children's Online Privacy Protection Act COPPA Facebook iKeepSafe Jan Schakowsky Kathy Castor kidSAFE Privacy Vaults Online Inc. Rohit Chopra TRUSTe
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