ANA Warns Against Major COPPA Overhaul

Advertisers are telling the Federal Trade Commission that its rule implementing the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is working and needs only tweaks around the edges.

Related: FTC Extends COPPA Comment Deadline...Again

In comments to the FTC, the Association of National Advertisers argued that its members "have historically demonstrated thoughtful and unwavering commitment to children’s privacy" and that the COPPA rule "its current form is workable and effective."

They say one thing working particularly well is the safe harbor the FTC gives from all of the COPPA rule so long as they adhere to self-regulatory standards providing at least as much protection as the rule. "The FTC should continue to encourage businesses to achieve safe harbor status by participating in approved self-regulatory programs and should continue to enable safe harbor programs to seek approval from the agency," ANA told the agency.

Where the FTC makes changes, they said, it should only be where necessary, avoiding changes that could decrease the availability of "quality and varied" online content or impair "healthy business competition."

They made clear of what changes they don't want to see. "We strongly oppose any Rule update that would require operators of general-audience platforms to police user ages or the content uploaded by others to such platforms," they said. They also said they should not weaken the requirement that a web site or online service operator must have "actual knowledge" that "it is collecting personal information directly from users of another website or online service that is directed to children" to be liable for that content. They argue that the standard is in statute anyway, and the FTC can't change it, but want to cover their bases.

They also don't want to expand the definition of a child-directed Web site subject to COPPA to ones with "large numbers" of child users. "We strongly oppose this
proposal because it lacks statutory authority and will create significant uncertainty, thereby further discouraging the development of online resources for children," they argue.

One of the changes ANA would like to see is clarification of the interaction between federal policy and "sweeping" state privacy laws."

Back in July, the FTC sought comment on its 2013 COPPA updates and whether it was time for more changes.

The FTC usually reviews rules every 10 years, but technological changes are driving the earlier review to make sure children are being protected in a world of widespread data collection for targeted advertising and marketing.

COPPA's author, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) is one of those arguing for the need to update its protections for those 12 and under and extending them to older children and youth.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.