Expanding Child Protection Online

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FTC proposes to “clarify” and “strengthen” online children’s privacy.

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Under a new proposal by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Internet companies may have to change the ways they collect online data to satisfy revised child privacy regulations.

The FTC has proposed updating its Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPR), which prohibits a broad number of websites from collecting personal information from individuals under the age of 13 without parental consent.

By modifying a number of definitions, including website “operator” and “personal information,” the proposal would attempt to regulate social networks and other web browser “plug-ins” like the FTC has regulated traditional websites.

The FTC’s proposal attempts to protect children’s privacy while not overburdening certain websites or social media services. For example, sites and services that offer content for both children and adults would be subject to less stringent requirements than sites and services targeting just children if they age-screen their users before collecting personal information.

The proposal follows a recent report that Facebook, the world’s largest social network, is researching ways in which it could allow children under 13 to create accounts under parental supervision. Last year, Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerburg, suggested that there may be a “fight” over whether children should be able to have a presence on social networks, although he emphasized that Facebook would “take a lot of precautions” to ensure that any children under 13 on the site would be “safe” online.

The COPPR currently applies to websites with content targeting children under the age of 13 that “collect, use or disclose personal information from children.” It also applies to other websites that knowingly collect, use, or disclosure such information. Congress granted the FTC the authority to regulate children’s online privacy in the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act, passed in 1998.

The FTC is accepting comments on the proposal until September 10, 2012.