FTC Chair Talks COPPA

FTC Chairman John Leibowitz said Wednesday that his agency's key recommendations for updating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act were expanding the definition of personally identifiable information (PII), and to add cookies to the watch list.

While he pointed out the FTC was still getting comments on its proposals -- the deadline is Friday (Dec. 15) -- he signaled his support for expanding the definition of PII to include geolocation information, photos and videos, and for a parental opt-in regime for "persistent IDs" like cookies, so that behavioral advertisers who wanted to target kids would have to get their parent's permission.

He was preaching to the choir at a Hill forum on children and teen online privacy Thursday. The co-hosts were Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Tex.), the co-chairs of the congressional privacy caucus who co-sponsored do-not-track kids legislation that would limit how kids could be marketed to online, including making behavioral advertising off limits.

Their bill, which Markey plugged during the event, would require an opt-in regime for kids and teens, requiring companies to get consent from parents before they collect info from kids and from the teens before they collect their info. It would also allow kids, teens and parents to delete personal info with a so-called "eraser button," define behavioral marketing to kids as inherently unfair and deceptive, which means the FTC could prevent it, and require clear and concise privacy.

"First, the industry standard for privacy should be opt-in -- especially for kids and teens. Our bill would require companies to get consent from parents before they collect information about kids. And for teens, companies would need to receive the teenager's consent.  

"Second, kids and teens should be able to delete their personal information, with tools like an eraser button. Our bill would allow kids and parents to permanently delete their information if they've decided they no longer want it on a Web site or social network.

"Third, behavioral marketing to children is inherently unfair and deceptive. Our bill would prohibit advertising that is tailored to kids' age, gender, and personal information.  

"Fourth, Web sites should have clear and simple privacy policies that help families make smart choices.  Our bill requires Web sites to provide clear and conspicuous notice about what personal information is collected."

Leibowitz said it was important to strike "the right balance" between privacy protection and the advertising base that supports free online content, while keeping the protection of young people top of mind.

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.