Senators Seek 'Major' Investigation of Kids Data Collection

Citing all those surfing-from-home kids during the coronavirus pandemic, a markedly bipartisan group of senators often on opposite sides of communications issues has teamed up to urge the Federal Trade Commission to launch a "major" investigation of data practices in the ed tech and digital ad spaces. 

Joining in the letter were Senators Ed Markey (D-Mass.) [one of COPPA's authors), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).  

The FTC is already undertaking an early review of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), but in a letter to FTC chairman Joseph Simons and the other commissioners, the senators said a major investigation of those two areas should be part and parcel of its consideration of possible revisions to the COPPA implementation rule. 

Related: Privacy Advocates Push FTC for Kids Data Collection Oversight 

Fearing the review might lead to weakening, rather than strengthening COPPA, they told the FTC that "in order to ensure that the COPPA Rule review benefits young users, the FTC should use its statutory power to uncover critical information about evolving and widespread threats to children’s privacy that warrant further protections," specifically the ed tech that is now becoming increasingly important in a shelter-at-home world, and that the use of data by targeted online advertising to that same stay-at-home population of young people.

Related: New Bill Would Remake Kids Internet Content 

"Congress granted the FTC the power to undertake important fact-finding efforts, and we urge you to use this tool to better understand children’s privacy issues online as an essential step in the COPPA Rule review." 

Among the the things they want the FTC to investigate: 

• "What personal data ed tech services and providers collect from children and teens; 

• "How they obtain consent for this collection;

• "How long they retain students’ data and what their process is for deleting student data;

• "Whether they offer incentives for schools to integrate their products and services into their systems, and whether they offer incentives, such as financial discounts, for adults to consent to children’s data collection;

• "How they collect and process children’s biometric information, including facial recognition data, in educational settings, including outdoor educational settings; 

• "Whether they use student data for any non-ed tech products or services, including whether they use children’s data for behavioral advertising; 

• "What steps they take to maintain the security of students’ data;

• "Whether they have suffered any data breaches involving information about children or teens; 

• "Whether parents have adequate alternatives to consent to the collection of their children’s data, and what options are provided to parents in the course of obtaining consent; and

• "How they notify parents and schools about changes to their terms of service."

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.