FTC suggests fortifying COPPA to eliminate loopholes enabling tech companies to spy on children.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is proposing updated rules to strengthen protection for kids in the surveillance economy. These new rules would require companies to obtain parental consent before sharing data with advertisers and prohibit holding onto data for ambiguous “internal operations.” FTC Chair Lina Khan stated, “Kids must be able to play and learn online without being endlessly tracked by companies looking to hoard and monetize their personal data.”

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) has been effective since 2000, but amid increasing digital surveillance of children, the rules had not been updated since 2013. The FTC has received more than 175,000 comments on how it should update the COPPA rules. The proposed rule will reflect what the agency heard from parents, educators, industry members, researchers, and others. It is based on the 23 years of experience the FTC has in enforcing COPPA.

The FTC will soon release a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), which is a draft of the new COPPA rules. The public will have 60 days to comment and provide feedback. The agency will put the draft in the Federal Register in the next few weeks. The proposed updates to the rule include parental opt-in for sharing a child’s information with third parties and better justification for “nudges,” such as push notifications to get kids to open an app or stay online.

Amazon and other companies who have abused the exceptions in the past would have to comply with COPPA’s updated rules. Under the new rules, schools and school districts can authorize edtech providers to collect and use students’ personal data, but only for educational purposes. The proposed rules also state that “personal information” now includes biometrics.

Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) supports the update but emphasized the need for legislation to protect kids online by implementing minimum age requirements for social media use and banning algorithmic targeting for children and teens. However, the FTC rules will have to stand until Congress passes legislation, a task that could take some time given the current political climate and the prospect of a contentious 2024 election.

Overall, the proposed updates to COPPA are a step in the right direction for protecting children’s privacy online. The updates aim to impose stricter regulations on companies collecting data from children and ensuring that their personal information is not misused for advertising purposes. It remains to be seen how companies and legislators will respond to these proposed changes and whether they will ultimately be implemented.


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