Child online privacy rules give parents more control

Under new rules, websites have to gain parental approval before storing a child's videos, photos or GPS data.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer
child privacy laws expanded america
Credit: Zagg

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has changed online child privacy protection laws to give parents more control over data.

Announced today, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA) has received its final amendments, and in its new form will stop online companies from collecting data from children without parental consent.

Under the new revisions, companies will not be able to collect photos, video or GPS location data without a parent's approval if the child is under 13.

The new regulations are the result of a two-year review conducted by the FTC in order to revise child privacy policy laws, established in 1998, to consider the boom in modern technology, mobility, and the Internet. A number of websites facilitate child-based services, including from firms Artist Arena and Disney, whereas social networks including Facebook can currently be used by children, even if terms and conditions state otherwise.

The 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act does require website operators -- when services target children under 13 -- to provide notice to parents of their child's activities and gain their permission before collecting, using or disclosing any data. However, as digital media continues to expand, revisions became necessary to close a number of loopholes, especially in terms of third-parties gaining access to and using a minor's information without the consent of a parent, as in the case of website plugins. Under the new terms, third-parties must also adhere to COPPA.

The revisions also include a voluntary program for website owners to gain parental consent, and extends COPPA to cover "persistent identifiers," in other words, systems including mobile device IDs and IP addresses that can recognize a user across different websites and services.

In addition, website operators are required to take "reasonable steps" to release a minor's information only to companies that can keep data secure and confidential. Information must be held "only as long as is reasonably necessary."

"The Commission takes seriously its mandate to protect children's online privacy in this ever-changing technological landscape," said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. "I am confident that the amendments to the COPPA Rule strike the right balance between protecting innovation that will provide rich and engaging content for children, and ensuring that parents are informed and involved in their children’s online activities."

The new rules will take effect by July next year. In October, the FTC settled a complaint set against Artist Arena, who maintains fan-based websites for celebrities, after the agency was accused of illegally collecting data including dates of birth, email address and names from children under 12. In the complaint, the FTC claimed that the website collected information from over 101,000 minors, and as a result, Artist Arena agreed to pay a fine of $1 million.

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