FTC Poised to Crack Down on Online Advertising to Children

FTC building in Washington
The FTC building in Washington, D.C. (Image credit: Kurt Kaiser/Wikimedia Commons)

The Federal Trade Commission is clearly serious about regulating online privacy and targeted advertising, and it has the Democratic majority to deliver.

It has posted a notice on its website with the following provocative headline: “Coming Soon: Protecting Kids from Stealth Advertising in Digital Media.”

What is coming is an October 19 virtual event featuring “researchers, child development and legal experts, consumer advocates and industry professionals” to help it figure out, not whether online marketing to children needs reining in, but “what measures should be implemented to protect children from manipulative advertising.”

The FTC also said it wants additional input on how kids are affected by digital advertising and marketing “that may blur the line between ads and entertainment.”

The Federal Communications Commission is giving commenters until Nov. 18 so they can comment on any issues brought up at the Oct. 19 webcast.

Also: FTC Report Targets 'Dark Patterns' That Deceive Online Users

The FTC has already launched a rulemaking targeting what it calls “commercial surveillance and data security practices that harm consumers and competition” by which it means, among other things, data collection for online targeted advertising. It held a feedback forum last month on those related issues as well.

Unlike the FCC, which is at a political 2-2 tie, the FTC has a Democratic majority and a chair in Lina Khan who has been a big critic of edge provider market power and practices.

The FTC got praise for its focus on potential privacy regulations from Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the author of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Markey sent Khan a letter last week “applauding the FTC’s continued efforts to implement strong privacy safeguards” and its focus on gathering feedback on “how to effectively address surveillance threats to children and teens online.”

Markey also wants the FTC to update its implementation of COPPA by expanding the definition of personal information and coming up with rules that prevent a platform conditioning a child's use on sharing more data than is “reasonably necessary.”

“Experts agree that we have reached a crisis point for children and teens online, as the rates of mental health challenges for them soar, and the U.S. Surgeon General has called on technology and social media companies to address these threats to young people,” Markey wrote, joined by Reps. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) and Lori Trahan (D-Mass.). “In countries around the world, government entities have begun to take action by enacting policies that combat pernicious online threats to kids. The United States must now do the same.” ▪️

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.