Daily Dashboard

Commissioner Brill: COPPA Needs To Be Fixed, Not Abandoned

December 7, 2011

By Jedidiah Bracy, CIPP

Speaking at the IAPP’s Practical Privacy Series in Washington, DC, yesterday, Commissioner Julie Brill of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) equated the current privacy paradigm to the age-old “tenet of the toddler room: share, don’t take.” Among the many topics discussed, Brill defended the viability of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and said that the FTC plans to expand the legislation to cover emerging mobile technologies and online behavioral advertising.   

On the heels of a settlement with Facebook and shortly before the public comment deadline on COPPA, Brill countered recent claims that the federal legislation is no longer effective “in the Facebook age.”

A recent report by Microsoft researcher danah boyd found that social media sites restrict access to children under the age of 13 altogether rather than meet the requirements mandated under COPPA. As Brill put it, the report concludes that COPPA “inadvertently undermines parents’ abilities both to choose to allow their children access to these services and to protect their children’s data online.”

Brill disagreed with boyd’s assertion and claimed the “well-respected research” proved otherwise, adding, “parents would respond well to the notice and consent process if Facebook chose to use it.” Parental involvement in the creation of a social media account—something boyd’s report found common among those surveyed—“indicates they want what COPPA seeks to provide—the power to hold their children’s hands as they learn to make choices about how to share data online,” said Brill.

Additionally, Brill warned that “without COPPA, there would likely be a significant decrease in sites and services that give parents notice and control over the collection of their children’s personal information—a bad outcome as far as I’m concerned and, it seems, as far as the parents in this study are concerned.”

Though current legislation “is not perfect,” Brill said the FTC’s approach will be to fix existing holes by applying COPPA rules to new media like mobile technology and by providing “more streamlined, meaningful information to parents and improve the way in which it affects verifiable parental consent.”

Brill added that the FTC wants to “expand the definition of the personal information COPPA covers to include photos, videos and audio files containing children’s images or voices and to address online behavioral advertising to children…another online phenomenon that blurs the line between sharing and taking.”  

The public comment period on proposed amendments to COPPA expires on December 23.