Advocates Tell Congress: Support FTC Proposals on Children's Online Privacy--COPPA

Summary of Testimony

Kathryn C. Montgomery, PhD

House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade

Hearing: Protecting Children's Privacy in an Electronic World

October 5, 2011

Congress enacted the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) with strong bi-partisan support. For more than a decade, COPPA has served as an effective safeguard for young consumers under the age of 13 in the online marketing environment. Because the legislation was passed during the early stages of Internet e-commerce, COPPA established a clear set of “rules of the road” to help guide the development of the children’s digital marketplace. As a result, some of the most egregious data collection practices that were becoming state of the art in the online marketing environment were curtailed. Though the law took effect in the formative period of Internet marketing, it was purposely designed to adapt to changes in both technology and business practices, with periodic reviews by the FTC to ensure its continued effectiveness. Today’s children are growing up in a ubiquitous digital media environment, where mobile devices, instant messaging, social networks, virtual reality, avatars, interactive games, and online video have become ingrained in their personal and social experience. Members of this generation of young people are, in many ways, living their lives online. With the current expansion of digital media platforms and the growing sophistication of online data collection and profiling, however, it is now critically important that the intent of COPPA be fully implemented to protect young people from new commercial practices in today’s digital media environment.

The Federal Trade Commission has taken a responsible, inclusive, and thoughtful approach to its current review of the COPPA rules, enlisting the input of a wide range of experts and stakeholders in a series of workshops, discussions, and written comments over the past several years. The proposed rules announced last month offer a careful, well-researched, reasoned, and sensible set of recommendations, reflecting the interests and concerns of the many participants involved in the Commission’s widespread consultation efforts. We believe the changes suggested by the FTC will help address a number of problems raised by consumer groups, privacy experts, and child advocates. The FTC’s proposed safeguards on location and mobile information are especially timely, given the dramatic increase in children’s use of these devices.

Finally, while COPPA has established an important framework for safeguarding our youngest consumers in the digital marketplace, adolescents have no such protections. The goal of any public policy on teen privacy should be to balance the ability of young people to participate fully in the digital media culture—as producers, consumers, and citizens—with the governmental and industry obligation to ensure that youth are not subjected to unfair and deceptive surveillance, data collection, or behavioral profiling. The legislation offered by Rep. Joe Barton and Rep. Edward Markey, known as the “Do Not Track Kids Act of 2011,” is based on these principles.