Congress Urged To Ban Behavioral Targeting Of Minors

Dozens of organizations are calling for new laws that would prohibit digital platforms from targeting ads to minors based on their activity across websites and apps.

“We are deeply concerned that young people, who are spending more and more time online, are being targeted in unfair ways by online platforms and apps that take advantage of their developmental vulnerabilities,” 60 groups including Fairplay (formerly Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood), Consumer Federation of America, Center for Digital Democracy, and Public Citizen say in a letter to lawmakers.

They are urging Congress to pass a host of new laws that would affect how websites collect data, as well as how they design their services.

Among other changes sought by the watchdogs, they say Congress should ban companies outright from serving behaviorally targeted ads to young people. 

Currently, the federal Children's Online Privacy Protection Act prohibits online companies from knowingly collecting data from children under 13 -- including information used for behaviorally targeted advertising -- without parental permission. That law allows companies to collect data from children (and serve them with targeted ads) with their parents' permission.

The current children's privacy statute also doesn't restrict companies' ability to collect data from teens -- though lawmakers have repeatedly introduced bills that would limit data collection from minors under 16.

A Fairplay spokesperson says the groups would ideally like Congress to ban companies from serving behaviorally targeted ads to teens under 18, but that proposals to restrict data collection from younger teens "would be a very important step in the right direction."

Fairplay and the others are also urging Congress to require platforms to activate the “most protective” settings for minors by default.

The groups' letter comes several weeks after President Joe Biden called for Congress to outlaw the use of behavioral-targeting techniques to advertise to children.

“It’s time to strengthen privacy protections, ban targeted advertising to children, demand tech companies stop collecting personal data on our children,” he said during his March 1 State of the Union address. 

Fairplay and the other watchdogs also say Congress should require web companies to prioritize the “best interests of children” when designing services, and to “prevent and mitigate harms to minors.”

Their letter references recent revelations by former Facebook executive Frances Haugen, who accused the company of putting profits above the well-being of the company's teen users.

“The Facebook whistleblower's revelations ... make it clear that congressional action is needed,” the groups write.

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