FTC Loosens Privacy Rules Regarding Children's Voices

The Federal Trade Commission is giving a boost to voice-activated computing by loosening some privacy regulations regarding the collection of audio files from children under 13.

Since 2013, the FTC has required website operators that collect some forms of biometric data from children, including their voices, to obtain parental consent. But the agency says in new guidance issued Monday that it won't enforce that rule when companies collect records of children's voices in some circumstances. Specifically, the FTC says it won't bring enforcement actions against operators of voice-activated computer systems that allow children to give spoken commands, provided that audio files of the voices are quickly deleted.

"Verbal commands may be a necessity for certain consumers, including children who have not yet learned to write, or the disabled," the FTC says in its new guidance. "When the operator only uses the audio file as a replacement for written words, such as to effectuate an instruction or request, and only maintains the file long enough to complete that purpose and then immediately deletes it, there is little risk the audio file will be used to contact an individual child."

Operators of voice-controlled computers are still required to spell out how they collect and use audio files. The FTC says the new policy doesn't apply if the operator requests children's names or other forms of personal information.

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