Lawmaker Praises COPPA Expansion, Bashes Behavioral Targeting

by , Dec 19, 2012, 6:41 PM
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Sen. Jay Rockefeller, head of the Senate Commerce Committee, left no doubt today that he's no fan of online ad networks.

Speaking at a press conference announcing new Children's Online Privacy Protection Act regulations, Rockefeller said it was high time that companies were prohibited from tracking children in order to profit from data about them.

The old COPPA Rule never fully appreciated that third-party companies would increasingly populate websites and apps to collect and use personal information," the lawmaker said in his written statement.

In his spoken remarks, Rockefeller went even further. He specifically criticized third-party Web companies that mine data "commercially for their advantage." Rockefeller then went on to say that the FTC's decision to ban the use of behavioral targeting techniques on children "gets into the do-not-track issue -- which I'm devoted to, but which we can't pass right now."

COPPA bans Web site operators from knowingly collecting personal information from children under 13 without their parents' consent. In the past, personal information was defined as information that could be used to contact children -- like phone numbers or addresses.

The FTC's new COPPA regulations expand that definition to include items like cookies and IP addresses. With that change, companies can no longer compile "anonymous" profiles of children and use that information to send them targeted ads.

Whether COPPA is the right vehicle for addressing online behavioral advertising is open to debate. Ad industry groups generally said that the 14-year-old COPPA was aimed at preventing strangers from contacting children and placing them in physical danger. They objected to the changes, arguing that cookies aren't comparable to phone numbers or street addresses because people can't use cookies to directly contact a child.

But privacy advocates and other watchdogs pressed the FTC to make the changes, arguing that it was "urgent" to address new tracking techniques -- ranging from persistent identifiers to geolocation tracking -- that had become more popular since COPPA was originally passed.

For now, privacy groups won the day. Whether that means that broader do-not-track regulations are coming remains to be seen.

1 comment on "Lawmaker Praises COPPA Expansion, Bashes Behavioral Targeting".

  1. Robert Repas from Machine Design Magazine
    commented on: December 20, 2012 at 12:24 p.m.
    One small step at a time. One small step at a time...

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