The Federal Trade Commission is gearing up to revisit rules governing online data collection from children younger than 13, the agency said Wednesday in a request for comment from the public.
The new review is taking place only six years after the last major overhaul of the rules. The agency usually reviews regulations once every 10 years, but said Wednesday that it is moving faster due to “rapid changes in technology, including the expanded use of education technology.”
The FTC is seeking comments about a host of potential revisions to the regulations, including changes that could directly affect Amazon and Google. Advocacy groups recently alleged in FTC complaints that both companies violate the federal children's privacy law.
The Children's Online Privacy and Protection Act, which took effect in 2000, broadly bans Web site operators from knowingly collecting personal information from children under 13 without parental consent. The law empowers the FTC to issue regulations defining key terms, including Web site operators and “personal information.”
Among other issues, the FTC is posing questions about how to apply COPPA to platforms that allow third parties to post content. While the FTC doesn't mention YouTube by name, the questions appear to be geared toward that company.
“In some circumstances, operators of general audience platforms do not have COPPA liability for their collection of personal information from users of child-directed content on their platform uploaded by third parties, absent the platforms’ actual knowledge that the content is directed to children,” the FTC writes in a request for comment.
“Operators of such platforms therefore may have an incentive to avoid gaining actual knowledge of the presence of child-directed content on their platform,” the FTC adds. “To encourage such platforms to take steps to identify and police child-directed content uploaded by others, should the Commission make modifications to the COPPA Rule?”
The agency is also now seeking comment on how the law should apply when smart speakers collect audio files of children's voices, but immediately delete the files.
News of the review appeared to surprise some children's advocates.
“I had no inkling they were going to do this,” said Angela Campbell, faculty director at Georgetown Law's Institute for Technology Law & Privacy. Campbell, who has filed FTC complaints against tech companies on behalf of advocacy groups, recently urged lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee to beef up privacy laws.
She is questioning the timing of the FTC's request for comments, which comes before the agency has said whether it will prosecute Google or Amazon.
“To ask questions about what the rules mean at the same time as they're trying to enforce the rules makes me a little uncomfortable,” Campbell says. “It seems like you would want to complete the investigation first.”
The FTC is also asking whether the 2012 revisions to COPPA “have resulted in stronger protections for children and greater parental control over the collection of personal information from children, as well as whether these changes have had any negative consequences.”
Those earlier revisions effectively prohibited companies from using behavioral advertising techniques on children younger than 13, without parental consent.
The FTC plans to explore updates to COPPA at an October 7 workshop.