PFF: Expanding COPPA Won't Enhance Child Safety Online

The Project and Freedom Foundation says expanding the
Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) to adolescents would not
enhance child online safety, would undermine privacy and would have First
Amendment implications.

That is the word from Berin Szoka, a senior fellow at PFF, a
free market think tank whose backers include major cable companies, phone
companies, networks and studios.

According to his prepared testimony for the Senate Commerce
Committee on the bill, Szoka says efforts by some in Congress to expand the
bill are misguided and could actually reduce online privacy "by requiring
more information to be collected from both adolescents and adults, including
credit card information."

COPPA, which requires age-verification for users or
otherwise limits the ability of children to share personal info or content, is
targeted to kids under 13, but there is pressure to boost that age range to
include those as old as 17 or 18.

PFF argues that applying that limitation to older teens
"constitutes a prior restraint on anonymous or pseudonymous

One reason PFF says expanding the bill won't make kids safer
is because it would be extending an age-verification regime that isn't
effective. "Unfortunately, the reality is that the technology for reliable
age verification simply doesn't exist.  Even the FTC has made clear that
it doesn't consider COPPA's verifiable parental consent methods, such as use of
a credit card, as equivalent to strict age verification."

The group is also worried that with new oversight powers
given the FCC via financial reform legislation would give the FCC
"sweeping new powers," the FTC would be able to expand COPPA

Finally, the group says that the government should not be so
afraid of the effects of online advertising and marketing on kids. It argues
that educating kids should be the government's role in "tailored
marketing," rather than limiting it, suggesting that even some kids under
13 are more savvy than they are given credit for.

"Ultimately, concerns about tailored advertising may be
less about privacy than about what advertising scholar Jack Calfee has dubbed
the "Fear of Persuasion"-the idea that advertising is inherently manipulative
and only grows more so with increased relevance," reads PFF's testimony. But
as Calfee notes, "by the age 10 or so, children develop a full understanding of
the purpose of advertising and equally important, an active suspicion of what
advertisers say."

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.