Adults overwhelmingly oppose advertisers tracking the online
activities of kids under 13 or collection of their personal information, and at
a minimum want those advertisers to get the parents' permission first.
That is according to Princeton Survey Research findings
released by Common Sense Media and the Center for Digital Democracy on Thursday.
The groups say the findings demonstrate support for the
basic principles of the Children's
Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The Federal Trade Commission is
preparing to revamp its enforcement of that law with new protections for kids'
information in the digital age (see
Those findings include that 1) 86% disagree with the statement
that it is OK for a website to ask kids for personal info about their friends;
2) 70% strongly disagree that it is OK for advertisers to track kids' online
behavior if they provide free content in exchange; 3) 82% strongly disagree
with the statement that it is OK for advertisers to collect information from
children's mobile phones; and 4) 82% strongly agree that advertisers should get
parents' permission to put tracking software on a child's computer.
"It is clear from these findings that the public supports
strong action by the FTC to address the disturbing and widespread practices
that threaten the privacy and safety of our nation's children," said Kathryn
Montgomery, American University professor of communication and one of the
driving forces behind passage COPPA's passage.
"The findings revealed strong support not only for the
basic principles of the law, but also for several key proposed changes in the
rules that would address a range of online business practices -- including
mobile marketing and behavioral profiling -- that have emerged since the COPPA
took effect more than a decade ago," the groups said in releasing the
study. "The Federal Trade Commission is expected to announce a number of
updates to the COPPA regulations in the coming weeks."
The survey was of 2,002 adults in a representative sample of
residents of the continental U.S. The study was a phone poll conducted Nov. 8
to Nov. 18. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.
The FTC reviewed COPPA in 2005 and made no changes, but this
time around has plenty of new proposals given the explosion of digital media
and child-targeted Web sites since the bill was passed in 1998. Those proposed
"[U]pdating the definition of 'personal information' to
include geolocation information and certain types of persistent identifiers
used for functions other than the website's internal operations, such as
tracking cookies used for behavioral advertising. In addition, the Commission
proposes modifying the definition of 'collection' so operators may allow children
to participate in interactive communities, without parental consent, so long as
the operators take reasonable measures to delete all or virtually all
children's personal information before it is made public.
"[S]eeking to streamline and clarify the direct notice
that operators must give parents prior to collecting children's personal
information. The proposed revisions are intended to ensure that key information
will be presented to parents in a succinct 'just-in-time' notice, and not just
"[A]dding new methods to obtain verifiable parental
consent, including electronic scans of signed parental consent forms,
video-conferencing, and use of government-issued identification checked against
"[S]trengthening the Rule's current confidentiality and
"[S]trengthening its oversight of self-regulatory safe
harbor programs' by requiring them to audit their members at least annually and
report periodically to the Commission the results of those audits."
In a joint filing in response to those proposals, the
National Cable and Telecommunications Association and Motion Picture
Association of America said the current rules already strike the right balance
and that some of the new changes "would significantly extend the reach and
the burdens of the COPPA regulatory regime" without a corresponding
benefit and, in fact, with a corresponding adverse impact on the quality and
viability of age-appropriate children's content.
"The industry argues that updates to COPPA will stifle
innovation and cost jobs, when in fact, they should respect the role of parents
and use it build consumer trust," said James Steyer, Common Sense Media
CEO in announcing the study. "The FTC's recommended updates to COPPA represent
the most important regulation of the past 10 years when it comes to protecting
our kids' privacy."
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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.