A proposal by the Federal Trade Commission to broaden privacy regulations by banning companies from tracking children anonymously “would have substantial negative effects for parents, children and companies alike,” according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau.
“We encourage the Commission to rethink its approach,” the IAB said in written comments submitted late last week. “The amendments put forward by the Commission would have substantial negative effects for parents, children and companies alike.”
The IAB's comments came in response to an FTC proposal to update regulations implementing the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. That law, which went into effect more than 10 years ago, bans Web site operators from knowingly collecting "personal information" from children without their parents' permission.
COPPA's definition of personal information includes names, telephone numbers and street addresses, but the statute also enables the FTC to define the term as any identifier that “permits the physical or online contacting of a specific individual.”
The FTC proposed defining personal information as any "unique identifier," including tracking cookies, device serial numbers, and in some cases, IP addresses. Currently, names, email addresses, street addresses and phone numbers are all considered personal information.
The IAB opposes that change, arguing that it could “bring a wide range of activities, including online advertising and analytics activities, within the scope of COPPA for the first time.”
The organization also argues that the FTC isn't empowered to extend COPPA to online advertising because people generally can't be contacted based on IP addresses or cookies alone. “The proposed rule is not consistent with the plain language of this provision or with COPPA’s legislative history,” the IAB says.
The trade group adds that cookies, IP addresses or other persistent identifiers “are readily distinguishable from home addresses and telephone numbers, which are singled out in COPPA because of the risk that sexual predators could locate children by physically going to an address or calling a number.”
The IAB notes in its comments that industry self-regulatory principles prohibit the collection of any data from children under 13 for behavioral advertising purposes. Absent a “clear record” that companies are using behavioral advertising techniques on children under 13, the FTC shouldn't promulgate the new rule, the IAB argues.
The organization additionally argues that the new rule could limit children's access to Web content. “Many Web sites and online services have been able to design business models and features that do not trigger the existing rule, such as by minimizing and anonymizing their data collection from children,” the IAB says. “The proposed rule could bring many of these business models and features within the scope of COPPA.”
Although opposed by the industry, the FTC's proposal garnered support on Capitol Hill. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) praised the FTC's report overall.
Advocacy groups also praised the FTC's suggestions. A coalition of 17 organizations, including the Center for Digital Democracy, American Academy of Pediatrics, Berkeley Media Studies Group/Public Health Institute, and World Privacy Forum, said in written comments that marketers shouldn't be allowed to use behavioral targeting techniques on children younger than 13.
“Given children’s limited cognitive abilities and the sophisticated nature of contemporary digital marketing and data collection, strong arguments can be made that behavioral targeting is an inappropriate, unfair, and deceptive practice when used to influence children under 13,” the groups wrote in comments filed late last week. “At the very least, marketers should be constrained from engaging in such practices without obtaining meaningful, prior consent from parents.”