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FTC to Include Teen-Targeted Measures In Online Privacy Recommendations

John Eggerton
Broadcasting & Cable
July 15, 2010

Look for the Federal Trade Commission's upcoming online privacy recommendations to suggest increased online privacy protections for teenagers 13 and up, but not to simply graft the parental notification/consent model in child online protection law onto older kids.

That word came in prepared testimony by Jessica Rich, deputy director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a Senate Commerce Committee on "Protecting Youth in an Online World."

Referencing the FTC's planned privacy recommendations stemming from its roundtable discussions, Rich said that "The Commission expects that the privacy proposals emerging from this initiative will provide teens both a greater understanding of how their data is used and a greater ability to control such data." 

The commission has been holding roundtable discussions on how to protect privacy in a digital world, and has sought comment on how and if it should modify its enforcement of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

Rich also said that the commission "is available to work with the committee" if it decides it wants to legislate increased protections for teens.

The FTC announced in March a review of its rules implementing the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The Bush FTC reviewed the 2000 rule back in 2005 and decided it didn't need any updating. But the current FTC "believes that changes to the online environment over the past five years, including children's increasing use of mobile technology to access the Internet, warrant reexamining the rule."

COPPA's protections, primarily requiring operators to get parental permission before they collect, use, or disclose personal information, apply to children under 13. Rich suggested that simply applying that same parental notice and consent model would be difficult to simply apply to teens.

During the hearing, Rich told Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) that she did not think teens had the decision-making capacities of adults, but that the FTC was "very skeptical" that the COPPA model would apply to teens, who are more likely to alter info to bypass consent. But she echoed her prepared testimony that the FTC would work with the committee if it wants to come up with a different model.

Rockefeller said he thought the subject of online protection was a "game changer," saying he thought it wasn't just about educating parents, but about "scaring the hell out of them" about what their kids are doing that they don't know about. "We agree that the privacy and safety of teens is immensely important."

Rockefeller said he wanted to see a "more aggressive attitude on intervention" from the wireless communications industry. Rockefeller was responding in part to K. Dane Snowden, VP of CTIA-The Wireless Association, who emphasized education and information.

But the senator did not reserve his criticism to the wireless industry. He pointed out that the movie industry several years ago did not offer up a serious effort to combat sex and violence, and that the cable companies "do not monitor their content." He said that those cable companies say they are giving consumers what they want, but that was not the case. "They give them what they teach their watchers to want to watch," he said, admitting it was not Shakespeare, but saying he had made his point.





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