Here’s a legitimate question to ask if you’re a parent who is concerned about any sort of change in Internet safety law, “Considering the significant impact that they have on today’s digital world, does Google or Apple care about Internet safety?”
Well, based on their absence at a recent congressional hearing regarding amendments to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (C.O.P.P.A.), apparently not.
The purpose of the hearing was to focus on the effectiveness of C.O.P.P.A. as it stands today, and whether or not Congress should amend the law.
The reason the act is under the magnifying glass to begin with is because C.O.P.P.A. was originally put into effect in 1998, before the emergence of social networks like MySpace and Facebook. Since then, a number of factors have contributed to the ineffectiveness of C.O.P.P.A.—Internet etiquette has changed, social networks have become an important part of our everyday lives, especially with mobile integration, and as a result, individual privacy online is being questioned by those who are concerned.
So then why would Google and Apple decline their invitations to such an important and relevant hearing?
“I do not appreciate the fact that Apple and Google are not here,” said Sen. Jay Rockefeller IV, D-W. Va., chairman of the Commerce Committee. “Was it too expensive to send an associate legal counsel? They couldn’t afford the plane tickets?”
Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., who chairs the subcommittee, agreed. “We asked Apple and Google, and they declined,” he said. “It’s unfortunate because they are major players, and we are going to continue to have a long, in-depth conversation in this area.”
Absences aside, both Microsoft and Facebook sent representatives to the hearing.
Facebook’s representative, Timothy Sparapani, who is the Director of Public Policy, opposed amending the law saying, “Any amendment might undermine our innovative privacy and safety tools”. That’s funny, considering the fact that Facebook’s abidance of C.O.P.P.A. is only in the most minimal sense. Facebook says “no one under 13 can be a member of our site”, but their method of enforcing this rule is just as effective as a porn site asking a visitor if they’re 18 before they hit “enter”.
Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said “Kids live online, exchanging intimate information with their friends, but behind the scenes, there is a transfer of data from companies like Facebook to advertisers or third parties that is much more opaque. How do we deal with the collection and use of personal information of teenagers?”
Well, Marc, we have the same concerns as you. And just like you, we hope that Congress and the FTC get together to amend C.O.P.P.A. and make it mandatory for social networks and sites that require users to be a specific age, to adhere to it. But in the mean time, as we sit back and see what happens, don’t count on the technology leaders over at Apple and Google to play any major role in the innovation of our children’s online safety.