FTC Proposes Adding Geolocation, Cookies to COPPA Definition of Personal Info

The Federal Trade Commission has recommended adding behavioral advertising tracking cookies and geolocation information to the definition of kids' personal information that behavioral marketers and Web sites must get permission from parents to obtain.

It also says that request must be succinct and distinct, not simply part of the often multi-screen, small type privacy policies.

Those are among some of the just-announced FTC recommendations for updating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

The FTC initiated the review in 2010, seeking comment on "every aspect" of the law as it looked to update it in the age of social nets, widespread online targeting and social networks. It will now seek comment on the just-released specific recommendations.

Those include better verification of parental consent, including virtual face-to-face okays (video conferencing) or government-issued ID checks, but it leaves some wiggle room, recommending a 180-day period in which companies can seek approval of a particular notification method.

It also includes a requirement that ISPs or third parties have in place "reasonable procedures" to protect such information if parents give their consent, "that operators retain the information for only as long as is reasonably necessary, and that they properly delete that information by taking reasonable measures to protect against unauthorized access to, or use in connection with, its disposal."

The vote on the rules was 5-0. Comments are due by Nov. 28.

Ed Markey (D-Mass.)and Joe Barton (R-Tex.), co-chairmen of the Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus who have co-sponsored a kids do-not-track bill, liked what they saw.

"I commend the Commission for rejecting arguments that voluntary, self-regulatory efforts are the best way to address privacy concerns in connection with behavioral targeting of children online," said Markey, author of the COPPA law. "Strong legal requirements along with vigilant enforcement are needed to protect children from tracking and targeting on the Internet."

"These new rules would go a long way in limiting kids' exposure to online dangers and giving parents more control over what their kids see and who they communicate with on the computer," said Barton.

"The Center for Digital for Democracy is pleased that the FTC has finally brought protecting a child's privacy into the 21st century," said Center for Digital Executive Director Jeff Chester. "This proposal balances the need to protect the privacy of children, ensure parental involvement, and promotes the growth of kid-oriented online media. At a time when our children spend much of their daily lives online and are always connected to the Internet via games, cell phones and other devices, parents should thank the FTC for acting responsibly on behalf of children."

Chester has been one of the strongest voices for online privacy protections.

"I commend the FTC for proposing a much needed update to the COPPA Rule," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Commerce Committee and another of those pushing hard for stronger online child privacy protections.  "This important children's protection law must meet the challenges of the 21st century.  COPPA was passed over a decade ago, and the online and technological landscape has changed considerably since then.  I think everyone would agree that we need to do more to protect our children's online privacy, and today's proposal helps in that effort."

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.