September 19, 2014

Online Privacy: FTC Adopts Final COPPA Amendments

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From Today’s Announcement by the Federal Trade Commission:

The Federal Trade Commission adopted final amendments to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule that strengthen kids’ privacy protections and give parents greater control over the personal information that websites and online services may collect from children under 13.

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The final amendments:

  • modify the list of “personal information”  that cannot be collected without parental notice and consent, clarifying that this category includes geolocation information, photographs, and videos;
  • offer companies a streamlined, voluntary and transparent approval process for new ways of getting parental consent;
  • close a loophole that allowed kid-directed apps and websites to permit third parties to collect personal information from children through plug-ins without parental notice and consent;
  • extend coverage in some of those cases so that the third parties doing the additional collection also have to comply with COPPA;
  • extend the COPPA Rule to cover persistent identifiers that can recognize users over time and across different websites or online services, such as IP addresses and mobile device IDs;
  • strengthen data security protections by requiring that covered website operators and online service providers take reasonable steps to release children’s personal information only to companies that are capable of keeping it secure and confidential;
  • require that covered website operators adopt reasonable procedures for data retention and deletion; and
  • strengthen the FTC’s oversight of self-regulatory safe harbor programs.

The COPPA Rule was mandated when Congress passed the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998.  It requires that operators of websites or online services that are either directed to children under 13 or have actual knowledge that they are collecting personal information from children under 13 give notice to parents and get their verifiable consent before collecting, using, or disclosing such personal information, and keep secure the information they collect from children.  It also prohibits them from conditioning children’s participation in activities on the collection of more personal information than is reasonably necessary for them to participate.  The Rule contains a “safe harbor” provision that allows industry groups or others to seek FTC approval of self-regulatory guidelines.

Definitions

The Final Rule includes these modified definitions:

  • The definition of an operator has been updated to make clear that the Rule covers a child-directed site or service that integrates outside services, such as plug-ins or advertising networks, that collect personal information from its visitors.  This definition does not extend liability to platforms, such as Google Play or the App Store, when such platforms merely offer the public access to child-directed apps.
  • The definition of a website or online service directed to children is expanded to include plug-ins or ad networks that have actual knowledge that they are collecting personal information through a child-directed website or online service.  In addition, in contrast to sites and services whose primary target audience is children, and who must presume all users are children, sites and services that target children only as a secondary audience or to a lesser degree may differentiate among users, and will be required to provide notice and obtain parental consent only for those users who identify themselves as being younger than 13.
  • The definition of personal information now also includes geolocation information, as well as photos, videos, and audio files that contain a child’s image or voice.
  • The definition of personal information requiring parental notice and consent before collection now includes “persistent identifiers” that can be used to recognize users over time and across different websites or online services.  However, no parental notice and consent is required when an operator collects a persistent identifier for the sole purpose of supporting the website or online service’s internal operations, such as contextual advertising, frequency capping, legal compliance, site analysis, and network communications.  Without parental consent, such information may never be used or disclosed to contact a specific individual, including through behavioral advertising, to amass a profile on a specific individual, or for any other purpose.  The final amended Rule also adds a process allowing industry to seek formal approval to add permitted activities to the definition of support for internal operations.
  • The definition of collection of personal information has been changed so that operators may allow children to participate in interactive communities without parental consent, so long as the operators take reasonable measures to delete all or virtually all children’s personal information before it is made public.

Read the Complete News Release/Summary

Children's Online Privacy Rule (Final Amendments), Federal Register

Dissenting Statement of FTC Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen

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Gary Price About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.