FTC tightens up child privacy rules

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Apps and websites will have to jump through more hoops before gathering personal information on children, thanks to a set of amendments to the creaking Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

The Federal Trade Commission says that, from July next year, they'll need to get parental permission before collecting photos, videos and geolocation information, as well as before using cookies.

The FTC has been considering the amendments to the Act - which has remained unchanged since 2005 - for over a year.

"The Commission takes seriously its mandate to protect children’s online privacy in this ever-changing technological landscape," says FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz.  

"I am confident that the amendments to the COPPA Rule strike the right balance between protecting innovation that will provide rich and engaging content for children, and ensuring that parents are informed and involved in their children’s online activities."

The new amendments also close a loophole that allowed apps and websites to permit third parties to collect personal information from children through plug-ins without parental notice and consent.

The FTC had some difficulty working out what to do about websites and apps that share information. It's shied away from making companies such as Google and Facebook responsible for their partners' activity, and app stores won't be liable for the policies of the apps they sell.

The move has been welcomed by privacy campaigners.

"We are especially gratified that this decision puts to rest the longstanding and disingenuous claims by the digital marketing industry that cookies and other persistent identifiers are not personally identifiable information. The revised rules also address the increasingly pervasive use of geolocation, behavioral targeting, and social media data collection," says Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

"But we are concerned about possible loopholes that could undermine the intent of the rules. CDD plans to continue closely analyzing the emerging marketing and data practices targeted at children - with a sharp focus on app developers and social marketers like Facebook - and will file complaints against any company that violates the new rules."

The Interactive Advertising Bureau isn't quite so happy, though. It recently claimed that the changes would "restrict children’s access to online resources" - and published a cartoon of the FTC smashing childrens' Christmas presents.