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Online Privacy Poll: Parents Want Government To Step In

Flanked by the chairs of the Federal Trade
Commission and Federal Communications Commission, Common Sense CEO James Steyer
unveiled a new poll that showed parents are concerned about their
kids' online safety and privacy and want the government to
do something about it.

That came at a Common Sense-organized online
privacy event Friday (Oct. 8) at the National Press Club.

According to the Zogby poll of over 2,000
adults, 75% of parents gave a "negative" rating to the job that
social networks are doing protecting children's online privacy, and 68% said
the same about search engines keeping kids' information safe and

He said that 88% of parents would support a law
requiring online search engines to get permission before they use personal
information to market products, and even 85% of teenagers polled (over 400 were
polled) said that they should have that same opt-in control.

Steyer also said that concern is
"growing dramatically," pointing out that 85% of parents were more
concerned about online privacy than they were five years ago.

FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz called the study
findings "very, very interesting," while FCC Chairman Julius
Genachowski, a founding board member of Common Sense,
characterized them as a "call to action," adding: "Common
Sense's poll reveals that we've got a lot of work to do."

The actions Common Sense was promoting included no
behavioral marketing to kids, by which Steyer means kids under 18;
requiring an affirmative opt-in policy for information sharing of kids,
no geolocation targeting without opt-in, clearer and simpler
privacy statements and a massive education program, funded by industry.

Steyer wants the government to update its
privacy policies and also called for an "easy button" of sorts that would
allow kids to "erase" social network posts--pictures, comments about
others--that could come back to haunt them later in life. He
said that was so "when some 15-year-old does some really dumb thing on
their Facebook page, they don't have to live with the
consequences of that mistake for the rest of their lives." He pointed out
that adults make some pretty dumb mistakes as well.

Both Genachowski and Leibowitz agreed
with Steyer that their definition of kid is 17 and under. Currently the Children's
Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) defines kid as 13 and under. The FTC is
reviewing its implementation of that law and Leibowitz said its proposals for
changes to its rules, and the underlying law, is targeted
for a November release. Those will likely include recommendations for clearer
privacy policies and giving teens more control over their

Leibowtiz pointed out that that law, which
would include the age definition, currently binds the FTC. But one of the
FTC's recommended tweaks to the underlying legislation could be a
recommendation to raise that age limit.

Steyer said Friday that Rep. Ed Markey
(D-Mass.), author of the COPPA law that passed in 1998, was planning
to introduce legislation to update it. Quoting from a Markey
statement, Steyer said: "Twelve years after the bill was signed
into law, entire new technologies have emerged that could put children's safety
at risk, making a legislative update necessary. I look
forward to introducing such legislation to bring COPPA into the 21st Century."

While Steyer said industry would likely
complain about new government policies, massing "legions of lobbyists trying
to protect their own self interest"--he argued, as did Genachowski, that
providing more safety and security would actually stimulate
business. Genachowski pointed out that one of the disincentives to
broadband adoption was some people's concern about their privacy
online. "If people fear that new technology puts their privacy at
risk, they are less likely to use those new technologies," Genachowski
said. "Parents need to feel confidant that their children
are safe online and that their personal information is protected."

Genachowski said distrust of the ‘net had
serious consequences not only for kids, but for small businesses and the economy,
which "needs a vibrant and trustworthy online marketplace."

Leibowitz was also not sure those potential
legions of lobbyists needed to be concerned about losing a big slice of
their ad audience. He said that even if opt-in policies are adopted, he did not
think that a large percentage of users would forego the
values of targeted marketing that tailors ads to their interests.