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Coalition pushes to extend child privacy protections

By Paul O'Reilly

A coalition of 17 advocacy groups and health organizations is asking the Federal Trade Commission to issue tougher regulations regarding online marketing to children.

The organizations are calling on the FTC to extend rules implementing the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) to a host of devices and platforms, including cell phones, gaming consoles, digital billboards and interactive TV.

The Clinton-era law prohibits operators of web sites and online services geared toward children from collecting personal information from minors under 13 without their parents' consent. The legislation effectively determines the minimum age limit for sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

“When Congress passed COPPA in 1998, computers provided the only means of accessing web sites and online services,” said the group in its FTC filing. “Today, adults and children have many other ways to access the Internet and online services.” Organizations that have joined the coalition include The Center for Digital Democracy, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Academy of Pediatrics and the Consumers Union.

The group is also asking the FTC to broaden the definition of personal information to include not only names and street or email addresses, but other data like IP addresses, geolocation data and other “seemingly anonymous” information that can be used for online behavioral advertising, i.e. serving ads to users based on previously collected data.

“Information collected through geolocation is especially sensitive given that it can allow for a child to be physically contacted wherever he or she is, at any time.” The FTC is seeking input about whether to revamp the COPPA regulations, last updated in 2000.

Other groups have come out against an overhaul of COPPA, arguing that requiring parental consent for data like IP address places too big a burden on existing web site operators.

The Center for Democracy & Technology also said the FTC shouldn't consider data collected for behavioral advertising purposes as personal information – largely because the industry's self-regulatory standards already ban behavioral advertising to children without parental consent.

Instead, the organization said, the FTC should “continue to monitor the uses of profile information on behalf of all users, and to consider further action should advertisers fail to live up to their commitment.”

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