Guarding children’s online privacy

June 12, 2012

For more than 20 years, Mamie Kresses has been working to protect consumers from fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices, and handled cases involving telemarketers, advertising, tobacco products, online privacy and data security.

As a senior attorney with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Kresses is currently overseeing the effort to update the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) regulations to ensure that the statue is keeping up with new technologies.

Enacted in 1998, the law requires businesses and organizations to obtain parental consent before collecting personal information such as full names, mailing and email addresses, and Social Security numbers from children under the age of 13.

“When we undertook the rule review, it was in recognition that online technologies have exploded with new devices like mobile phones and tablets since the law went into effect. We wanted to determine whether or not any changes or modifications needed to be made to the statue to ensure that it remains valuable and relevant as the online world changes,” said Kresses.

After extensive review and public comment, Kresses and her team recommended modifications to the regulations in five different areas. One proposal seeks to streamline and clarify the direct notice that operators must give parents prior to collecting children’s personal information. Another proposal would add a new method to obtain verifiable parental consent, including electronic scans of signed parental consent forms. The FTC expects to issue the final rules this fall.


Federal Trade Commission attorney Mamie Kresses (T.J. Peeler)

Kresses said the challenge is to “ensure that the law continues to give parents knowledge and a say in what their children do online while at the same time encouraging innovation and interesting content for children.”

Richard Quaresima, an FTC colleague, said Kresses is “very sensitive to the difficult policy questions and choices that arise to protect the privacy interest of children when engaging in online activities. She understands that better than anyone that I know.”

As part of the FTC’s Division of Advertising Practices, Kresses has handled cases involving online commercial practices, including an examination of online behavioral advertising. She also worked on a case that focused on commercially sold spyware that could silently and stealthily capture a consumer’s personal information.

“Mamie is very versatile, and she is the type of person you can put on anything and have a good result,” said Mary Engle, Associate Director for advertising practices.

Kresses said she is most proud of a case that required U.S. cigar manufacturers in the late 1990s to establish a warning label on cigar advertisements. Kresses said the FTC was able to negotiate voluntary orders with 95 percent of the cigar industry.

“The warnings were in a more prominent size and location than those of cigarettes, and they sent a message to the public that cigars, like any tobacco product, come with serious risks,” said Kresses. “If you go in a 7-Eleven today, you can see the cigars and their warnings behind the wall of the cashier. It’s important information for consumers to have.”

For Kresses, her work is always guided by what is the best result for the consumer.

“We look at the issues that are important and relevant to consumers and make a difference to ensure that claims are truthful so consumers can make informed decisions,” said Kresses.

This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Go to http://washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/fedpage/players/ to read about other federal workers who are making a difference.

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