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Groups Back FTC Kids Online Rule Tightening

A group of children's advocates have told the Federal Trade Commission that self regulation is not sufficient to govern the increasingly sophisticated online tracking of children combined with the exploding digital marketplace.

That came in comments to the Federal Trade Commission in support of its proposed updates to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act rule.

They argue that while COPPA, adopted in 1999, has been a good tool, it needs an update given that the technology for tracking and targeting has become much more sophisticated. They urge the commission to adopt the FTC's proposal to expand the definition of personal information to include "persistent identifiers" like cookies, as well as screen and user names, photos, videos, audio files, and geolocation information.

They also want the FTC to limit data retention of personal information by child-directed Web sites to no more than three months. The FTC has proposed limiting it to "only as long as is reasonably necessary to fulfill the purpose for which the information was collected."

The groups argue that would help address some of the issues raised by a study they submitted to the FTC that found that "81% of the top children-oriented websites analyzed were found to employ some form of tracking and/or targeting," and almost a half (48%) were "engaging in behavioral ad targeting... Based on what we have found, it is clear that sites directed at children use a wide range of persistent identifiers to track behaviors of children interacting with sites."

Commenters include The Center for Digital Democracy, the American Academy of Pediatrics, Children Now, and the Consumer Federation of America.

Marketers and Web site operators have generally cautioned against any significant changes to the current rule, arguing the current rule is still working and changes could limit age-appropriate content and discourage the development of kids' digital media literacy skills.

The Federal Trade Commission 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 should be succinct and distinct, not simply part of the often multi-screen, small type privacy policies. 

It 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.