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* Earlier rules developed in pre-smartphone era
* Photos, videos, audio files, IP addresses now covered
By Diane Bartz
WASHINGTON, Dec 19 (Reuters) - U.S. regulators are taking steps to protect the privacy of children when they go online by requiring parental consent before companies can collect certain information, the Federal Trade Commission said on Wednesday.
The actions mark an update to rules that were based on the 1998 Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, developed when most computers were big beige boxes sitting under office desks instead of smartphones in backpacks and permeating most aspects of daily life.
"The FTC initiated a review of the COPPA Rule in 2010 to ensure that the rule keeps up with evolving technology and changes in the way children use and access the Internet, including the increased use of mobile devices and social networking," the commission said.
Under the updated rule, IP addresses, which are unique to each computer will be added to the list of personal information that cannot be collected from children without parental consent, if the data will be used for behavioral advertising or tracking.
Location, photos, videos and audio files were also added to the definition.
Privacy advocates and advertising companies had been watching closely to see if the agency would go through with a pledge made in August to add IP addresses to the restrictions.
Advertisers had argued that it was inappropriate since several people in a family - adults and children - could use the same computer. Privacy advocates said it was needed to protect children.
The proposal also specifies that family websites, which are websites aimed at children and adults, would be allowed to screen users to determine their ages and only provide protection to children under age 13.
Currently, all visitors to the websites must be treated as if they are under age 13.
Under COPPA, website and online service operators must obtain verifiable consent from parents before collecting information about children.
The FTC's rule implementing COPPA became effective in 2000.