FTC proposes tougher kids privacy rules

The Federal Trade Commission said Wednesday it is considering online privacy rules that would make it harder for advertisers and social networks to collect information about children without permission from parents.

The FTC said its proposed rules would require third-party partners of Web sites, including “plug-ins” and ad networks, to ask parents for permission to collect information about users under 13 years of age.

Currently, sites aimed at children are required by law to ask a parent’s permission when collecting personal identifiable information such as e-mail addresses and names. But vague language in the 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act could allow so-called third parties like Facebook and Twitter, whose services are attached to numerous smartphone games, to avoid the parental consent process.

The consumer protection agency said it would take comments on the proposal for 30 days and then vote on them as part of a bigger overhaul of COPPA rules expected by the end of the year.

The revision of child privacy laws aims to catch up with advancing technology, by ensuring that advertisers and Web sites limit tracking of children who are increasingly online using smartphones and tablets.

The FTC said in its proposal that the 1998 COPPA law “did not foresee how easy and commonplace it would become for child-directed services to integrate social networking and other personal information collection features into the content offered to their users, without maintaining ownership, control, or access to the personal data.”

“Given these changes in technology the Commission now believes that an operator of a child-directed site or service that chooses to integrate into a site or service other services that collect personal information from its visitors should be considered a covered operator under the rule,” the FTC wrote in its notice.

Consumer privacy advocates have pushed for stronger rules than what has been drafted for vote by the FTC. They say advertisers can avoid behavioral advertising limits on children by attaching themselves to children’s sites without notifying parents and children clearly.

“Today, the FTC took a giant step to protect children's privacy by proposing that the online data broker industry be required to comply to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a privacy advocacy group. “The commission will also rein in the data brokers targeting kids who use social media, so-called "plug-ins," to gather information on a child and their friends.”

correction 7:58 p.m. rules would require parent’s consent for children younger than 13.

Related:

Facebook mulls letting underage kids onto site

Parents help children lie to get onto Facebook

High-Tech vs. No-Tech at two schools

Cecilia Kang is a senior technology correspondent for The Washington Post.

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