I don’t think it would be wrong to say that COPPA, as it stands today, isn’t efficient enough to meet the safety standards of the technology that our children have access to today. As a matter of fact, I think social networks like Facebook provide more than enough proof to support that claim. Well, it seems like 17 other organizations feel the same way about COPPA, and they’ve proposed that the FTC do something about it—you can see the details of this proposal in this filing.
By the way, if you’re unfamiliar with the COPPA law and how it aims to protect your children, visit my blog post.
The reasoning for the requested changes to COPPA is completely justified. As Jeff Chester, the Executive Director of the Center for Digital Democracy says in so many words: COPPA isn’t up-to-date with the way things currently are on the Internet, more specifically how it affects our children’s online privacy—after all, COPPA was initially put into effect in 2000. Chester highlighted the fact that other than IP address/cookie tracking by advertising companies, “online predators are developing new techniques for tracking and targeting children through mobile phones, video games, and virtual worlds.”
So here’s the list of proposed changes to COPPA. If you ask me, I’m all for this:
- Develop a separate set of privacy protections for children 13 and older.
- Extend COPPA’s privacy protections to mobile phones, online gaming consoles, interactive television, and other new digital platforms that are increasingly used by marketers to track and target children.
- Update its definition of “personal information” to reflect contemporary marketing practices in which persistent cookies, IP addresses, geo-location data, and even seemingly anonymous combinations of data such as age, zip code, and gender can be used to identify and target individuals.
- Close the loopholes on when and how a website can contact children multiple times without obtaining parental consent, and to investigate whether some marketers are circumventing COPPA’s intent by using this exception to the rules to engage in ongoing data collection and personalized marketing.
- Require major websites, ad networks, social networks and other online service operators to periodically inform the FTC about their data collection practices.
Personally, I think these changes tackle some of the most important issues facing our children today when they’re online. Ad agency practices aside, due to the fact that most children spend a majority of their day online—and suffice it to say, social networks—it’s extremely important that major social networks like Facebook and MySpace adhere to the guidelines of COPPA. As well, parents need to be educated—99.99% of the parents I talk to and the media veterans I’m interviewed by have never heard of COPPA. (I admit that I, too, was one of those parents four years ago.)
With that said, Yoursphere is pioneering the way for what social networks will be like in the near future. We offer a COPPA compliant solution and we haven’t deprived members of any social networking benefits.
In the end, parents need to be educated about COPPA. And at the same time, website operators, gaming companies, and cell-phone providers should be required to comply with COPPA, as well as be held accountable for not. Nevertheless, I’m interested to see where the FTC takes this—hopefully it’s in a positive direction. In the meantime, I will continue to do my part to help educate parents and children.