August 3, 2012, 12:32 PM

An FTC rule change would extend privacy protections for kids

The proposed rule may make it tougher for web sites to share with social networks.

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The Federal Trade Commission this week announced that it is proposing further revisions to existing rules designed to protect children’s privacy online. The revisions would require ad networks, social networks and other companies that collect information through a child-oriented web site to ask parents for permission to collect that information. 

Under current rules, only the child-oriented web site operator has to ask permission to collect information. The FTC says it wants to modify certain definitions and the scope of the rule to keep up with technology advances. When the rule was written in 1998, the commission says it “did not foresee how easy and commonplace it would become for child-directed sites and services to integrate social networking and other personal information collection features into the content offered.” 

The primary change proposed is to expand the definition of “operator” to include not only the web site operator but also companies that collect and maintain personal information on its behalf. The proposed changes also apply to mobile applications, the FTC says. 

“Given these changes in technology, the Commission now believes that an operator of a child-directed site or service that chooses to integrate into its site or service other services that collect personal information from its visitors should be considered a covered operator under the Rule,” the proposal reads. 

The rules designated by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) apply to children under the age of 13. The public can submit to the FTC comments on the proposed changes to COPPA rules through Sept. 10.

The FTC’s proposal to modify COPPA further highlights the attention the agency and other government officials are paying to online privacy and online data collection practices.The FTC this spring issued a report that puts forth principles on how consumers’ online data should be handled. In February, the White House proposed what it called a “bill of rights” aimed at protecting consumers’ privacy that would give them more control over how their information is collected and used online. That proposal follows the introduction of several bills in Congress that address consumers’ online privacy. 

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