Privacy Groups Have Issues With ESRB's Safe Harbor Update

The Federal Trade Commission should not modify the Entertainment Software Rating Board's FTC-approved self-regulatory guidelines for compliance with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act's (COPPA) safe harbor as ESRB has asked, at least not without some modifications to those modifications.

That came in comments filed with the FTC by the Center for Digital Democracy and Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

The ESRB administers the video game rating system and operates a safe harbor program for gaming compliance with online and mobile privacy protections.

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"The application as drafted would reduce protections for children below the already low bar set by COPPA," the groups told the FTC.

The COPPA rule "requires certain website and online service operators to post privacy policies and provide notice, and obtain verifiable parental consent, prior to collecting, using, or disclosing personal information from children under the age of 13."

The groups argued that the changes would allow the ESRB to eliminate annual compliance reviews and create a broader exemption for speech-to-text audio than are allowed under the COPPA law the FTC is enforcing.

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The ESRB bills its proposed changes as minor adjustments and updates to “ensure they remain current with the Commission's COPPA-related regulations and guidance" and to do so in the most "efficient and effective manner." For example, ESRB wants to replace on-site monitoring of compliance with the guidelines and self-assessment questionaires (SAQs) with “video conferences, telephone conferences, and correspondence.”

The groups instead called the proposed changes "deficiencies" that must be corrected or clarified if the FTC is to approve the changes.

"We do not oppose replacing on-site visits and SAQs with other ways of conducting effective assessments," they said. "We do, however, oppose removal of on-site assessments and SAQs without specifying how information will be gathered in their absence."

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.