US FTC seeks boost in online privacy for children

Thu Sep 15, 2011 11:23am EDT

* FTC proposes changes to rule on kids' online privacy

* Adds provision addressing location-tracking

* Comment period open until Nov. 28

By Jasmin Melvin

Sept 15 (Reuters) - The Federal Trade Commission is proposing new safeguards to heighten protection of children's personal information online.

The proposal would change an existing rule that gives parents a say over what information a website can collect about their children. The amendments are aimed at keeping pace with new technology and devices that give children Internet access.

"In this era of rapid technological change, kids are often tech savvy but judgment poor," FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a statement on Thursday.

The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) mandates that website and online service operators obtain verifiable consent from parents before collecting, using or disclosing personal information of children under 13.

The FTC implements COPPA through a rule that became effective in 2000.

Proposed changes to that rule would update the definition of "personal information" to include geolocation information often collected by mobile devices and applications.

Location tracking by smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices offered by Apple Inc (AAPL.O), Google Inc (GOOG.O) and other developers came under fire earlier in the year after it was discovered that Apple's iPhones collected location data and stored it for up to a year, even when location software was supposedly turned off.

Lawmakers have raised concerns that tech companies may not be doing enough to safeguard their customers' privacy in favor of selling location data to potential advertisers.

The FTC's definition update would also require parental permission before tracking cookies used for behavioral advertising could be applied to children surfing the Internet.

The FTC also proposed making it easier to obtain verifiable parental consent by adding new consent mechanisms, such as video-conferencing and electronic scans of signed consent forms.

"We want to ensure that the COPPA Rule is effective in helping parents protect their children online, without unnecessarily burdening online businesses," Leibowitz said.

The agency is seeking comment on the proposal until Nov. 28.

Other changes include streamlining the notice website operators must present to parents before collecting information; ensuring that third parties to whom children's information may be disclosed have adequate privacy and security measures in place; and boosting oversight of safe harbor programs that limit websites' liability. (Reporting by Jasmin Melvin, editing by Matthew Lewis)

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