Parents overwhelmingly say they object to the collection of personal information on children over the Internet, according to a new poll released just before federal officials are set to vote on a controversial proposal to strengthen child privacy laws.
According to a survey released Thursday by child-advocacy groups, nine out of 10 adults said they believed advertisers should get a parent’s permission before collecting the name, address or other personal data of a user under 13. Those businesses should never be able to ask for a child’s location or information about a child’s friends, respondents said.
The survey of 2,000 adults comes amid a debate over how far federal regulators can go to protect the privacy of children without stepping on the business practices of the fast-growing and aggressive Web, media and mobile-phone industries.
Current law is fuzzy on how much information these firms can collect on minors through social networks and mobile devices.
The Federal Trade Commission is poised to vote this month on revisions to a 1998 law written in the desktop-computer age. Proposed updates to that law would require permission from parents to track children online with cookies and other tools used by advertisers to create profiles of users.
The agency is also proposing an update to the law that would hold firms such as Facebook and Zynga responsible when their partner sites scoop up data on young users. If a child presses Facebook’s “like” button on a news or game site, Facebook would be equally responsible for the handling of that user’s data.
Facebook, which partners with thousands of sites across the Web, and other tech giants have strongly criticized the proposal.
The social-networking giant has said that holding third-party apps liable for privacy violations of their partner sites “raises First Amendment concerns.” The FTC “fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between plugin providers and website publishers,” Facebook wrote in comments filed with the FTC in September.
Under the proposed changes, Web companies would also have to gain permission from parents to ask for information that pinpoints the location of young users. The data show great promise for advertisers who want to serve up coupons and ads for cellphone users.
But those practices should be subject to higher standards to protect youth, public interest groups say.
“The message is crystal clear: The vast majority of parents in America want . . . the power to protect their children to remain in their hands,” said James Steyer, chief executive of Common Sense Media. “This is the public getting a voice against a small but very powerful sector of tech giants that are trying to fight very common-sense things.”
Common Sense Media and the Center for Digital Democracy commissioned Princeton Survey Research Associates to conduct the survey after seeing an intensified lobbying campaign by corporations such as Disney, Viacom and Apple, as well as advertisers.
These firms have met with FTC officials, arguing that many of the proposals are not technically feasible. They have said their industries need to be free of new rules so they have the freedom to innovate and create better tools and content for a generation of children who are increasingly taking to mobile tech and social networks.
“It’s important for the FTC to know about this survey and the sentiments of the public because they are being lobbied very heavily by industry trade groups and companies,” said Angela Campbell, a privacy expert at Georgetown Law.
Google also scoffed at the proposed changes, saying they would “undermine the ability of sites and services to provide engaging online resources to children.”
Despite their objections, Facebook and Google restrict users under 13 from using their services, including Gmail and Google Drive. But millions of underage users are estimated to be on those sites, consumer groups say.