Regulators propose tougher online privacy protections for kids


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Federal regulators on Thursday proposed tougher privacy protections for preteens surfing the Internet as the government seeks to update safeguards put in place before the explosion of smartphones and social networking.

The new rules from the Federal Trade Commission would apply to children under 13 and would tighten requirements covering the collection and storage of of personal information by websites and how they solicit and obtain parental approval.


‘In this era of rapid technological change, kids are often tech-savvy but judgment-poor,’ said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.

The commission wants to help ‘parents protect their children online, without unnecessarily burdening online businesses,’’ he said.

The FTC is proposing changes to rules required by the landmark Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which was enacted in 1998. The agency last updated the rules in 2005, but started working on revisions last year ‘in light of rapidly evolving technology and changes in the way children use and access the Internet,’ it said.

For example, the new rules clarify that online services include mobile apps ‘that allow children to play network-connected games, engage in social networking activities, purchase goods or services online,
receive behaviorally targeted advertisements, or interact with other content or services.’

The existing rules require website operators and online service providers to get the consent of parents before collecting personal information from children. Among the major changes would be a broader definition of personal information to include geolocation data often provided by smartphones, and online tracking mechanisms used to deliver behavioral advertising.

Websites also would have to give parents ‘just-in-time’ notices about data collection practices for children rather than just including it in the site’s privacy policy. And the FTC will tighten confidentiality and security rules for websites regarding children’s data, including adding a requirement that sites ensure that service providers or third parties with which they share children’s information have ‘reasonable procedures’ to protect it and retain it only as long as necessary.

But the rules also would add some flexibility for websites. They propose to allow sites to let children less than 13 years old participate in interactive communities without parental consent as long as the site takes ‘reasonable measures to delete all or virtually all children’s personal information before it is made public.’

The new rules will be open for public comment until Nov. 28.

Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, which advocates for tougher privacy protections for children, applauded the new rules.

‘This proposal balances the need to protect the privacy of children, ensure parental involvement and promotes the growth of kid-oriented online media,’ he said. ‘At a time when our children spend much of their daily lives online and are always connected to the Internet via games, cellphones and other devices, parents should thank the FTC for acting responsibly on behalf of children.”


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-- Jim Puzzanghera