U.K. Watchdogs Urge FTC Not To Weaken Children's Privacy Rules

Watchdogs in the United Kingdom are urging the Federal Trade Commission not to weaken regulations governing children's privacy.

“The dramatic increase in data collection online means that it has never been more important to ensure that children’s privacy protections are robust and enforceable,” states a letter signed by government officials from England, Wales and Scotland as well as representatives Unicef UK, The London School of Economics and Political Science, and other groups.

The signers add that they have “significant concerns” that the FTC might make it easier for companies to collect data from web users who view material directed at children.

The comments come as the FTC is reviewing regulations that implement the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. That law prohibits website operators from knowingly collecting personal information -- including web-browsing data used for targeted advertising -- from children under 13, without their parents' consent.

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In its request for comments from the public, the FTC asked about a rule change that would allow platforms like YouTube to collect data from users ages 13 and older who watch videos aimed at younger children.

Currently, the FTC presumes that operators of websites aimed at young children know that users are under 13. But that presumption is now under review.

The FTC specifically requested comments regarding whether platforms that identify child-directed content should “be able to rebut the presumption that all users of the child-directed third-party content are children thereby allowing the platform to treat under and over age 13 users differently.”

This September, Andrew Smith, the head of the FTC's consumer protection bureau said he anticipated the agency would revise the regulations, suggesting that one change under consideration would make it easier for web companies to serve targeted ads to users ages 13 and older who view videos aimed at younger children.

The U.K. watchdogs are asking the FTC to avoid revising the regulations in ways that undermines the law's “core function.”

“Wherever the best interests of children conflict with the commercial interests of operators, the COPPA Rule must be unequivocal in its prioritisation and protection of the former,” the letter states.

The signers add that the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act has an impact on children globally, giving that the services affected by the law operate worldwide.

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