FTC to Better Define New COPPA 'Actual Knowledge' Standard

The Federal Trade Commission plans to give online advertisers and website owners and developers more guidance on just what qualifies as "actual knowledge" that a site is directed to kids.

That was the big news out of a pair of panel discussions in Washington on Monday hosted by Tech Freedom, regarding the FTC's changes to its enforcement of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

Both Kandi Parsons and Maneesha Mithal of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection said that the commission planned to put more "meat on the bone" on the definition of "actual knowledge," now that it will make third parties liable for violations of COPPA prohibitions on collecting personal information from kids under that "actual knowledge" standard.

Parsons said that, for one thing, being sent a list of child-directed URLs by a watchdog group would not suffice to establish actual knowledge, nor would inconclusive evidence -- like a screen shot of a site that merely suggested child-directed content.

Mithal did not have an exact date for the release of the new guidance, only saying it would be "soon."

Industry representatives on the panel were pleased to hear there would be further guidance, but suggested it was coming a little late in the process since the new rules kicked in July 1, and that it was a tacit admission that the rules were not clear.

Lydia Parnes, an attorney with Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati and a former FTC official who now counsels clients on COPPA compliance, said that while she applauded the further guidance, there was still a great deal of ambiguity and that the FTC was essentially conceding it was still unclear.

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.