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FTC's Wilson: We're Not Out to Undermine COPPA

Republican Federal Trade Commission member Christine Wilson said the agency's current review of kids online privacy protections is is not an effort to undermine those protections.

That came at at a daylong workshop Monday (Oct. 7) on the future of the COPPA Rule implementing children's online privacy protection legislation.

COPPA requires operators of web sites targeted to kids or with actual knowledge that kids are using the site to obtain parental permission to collect, use or disclose personal information of anyone under 13.

"To be clear," she said in opening remarks at the event in Washington, "this rule review is not an attempt to roll back any of the 2013 changes [made under a Democratic Administration] but instead to make sure that the rule continues to serve the congressional goals articulated in 1998 [when the COPPA law was passed). Republican chairman Joseph Simons did not speak at the event.

Wilson said that the goals of innovation and competition, while important, should not be served at the expense of privacy. She said she agreed "wholeheartedly" with COPPA's goal of putting parents--like herself--in control of the online collection and use of their children's personal information.

That is the concern of a number of online privacy advocates, who sent out an e-mailed Monday warning in advance of the workshop that were concerned that the FTC's goal was, indeed, to "roll back COPPA safeguards rather than strengthen protections for children." They argued the panels for the workshop were heavy on industry lobbyists and lawyers, leading to fears the workshop and review would provide cover for "creating new loopholes or supporting industry calls to weaken the rules."

Some Democratic senators were also expressing those worries last week. They framed that concern as the FTC potentially underestimating the threat to kids from "giant tech companies."

Back in July, the FTC sought comment on some 2013 updates to the rule and whether more changes were needed. Ordinarily the FTC would not be doing another review until 2013, but said the earlier review was warranted to make sure children are being protected

Wilson also urged Congress to pass comprehensive privacy legislation enforced by the FTC. She said COPPA would be a good model for drafting that legislation. She said Congress deciding what should be protected, and the FTC exercising narrow rulemaking authority to implement, is the best model, including "appropriately cabbing the FTC's role."

Simons has said he does not favor giving the FTC broad rulemaking authority, as some privacy advocates have argued, so Wilson was echoing that message Monday. She also said the legislation should preserve the FTC's civil penalty authority.