(Corrects initials in third bullet to FTC)
* Rep Bono Mack backs capping protections at age 12
* Others argue for online privacy protections for teens
* FTC's revised child rule leaves age threshold intact
* Mack: privacy legislation not likely to move this year
By Jasmin Melvin
WASHINGTON, Oct 5 A proposed update of the U.S.
online privacy rule for children sparked debate at a
congressional hearing on Wednesday over whether such
protections should extend to teenagers.
The Federal Trade Commission plans to update its Children's
Online Privacy Protection Rule that gives parents a say over
what information websites and other online providers can
collect about children under the age of 13.
Some lawmakers and privacy advocates had hoped to see the
FTC address online privacy protections for children aged 13 to
17, but the agency's proposal left the age threshold intact.
Mary Bono Mack, who chairs the House of Representatives
commerce subcommittee, said she believed the FTC's proposed
revisions "hit the sweet spot."
While kids are becoming more tech savvy at younger ages,
their judgment and awareness of the dark side of the Internet
is not growing at the same pace, said Bono Mack, a Republican
The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) of
1998 requires websites and online service operators to obtain
verifiable consent from parents before collecting, using or
disclosing personal information of children.
The FTC's new proposal makes clear that privacy protections
apply when a child is on a cell phone, playing interactive
games online or participating in a virtual world. It further
clarifies that the law requires parental consent before
behaviorally profiling a child.
New consent mechanisms, such as video-conferencing and
electronic scans of signed consent forms, are also being added.
The FTC is seeking public comment before finalizing the revised
Bono Mack pushed back on calls to raise the COPPA age
threshold -- brought on by the boom of users flocking to
Facebook, Twitter and Google+ -- and commended what she called
common-sense restraint by the FTC to not stray from the current
definition of a child, someone under age 13.
"The last thing we want to do is to inhibit technological
advancements and stifle growth of the Internet by moving
forward in a new policy area without a really good, smart game
plan in place," she told the hearing.
Stephen Balkam, chief executive for the Family Online
Safety Institute, a group whose board includes executives from
Microsoft (MSFT.O) and Google (GOOG.O), agreed. He said raising
the age would prompt a substantial increase in children lying
about their age, negating protections afforded to younger
Balkam added that such a change also risks infringing on
teenagers' first amendment rights to free speech.
The FTC's Mary Koelbel Engle also said older kids are more
savvy in finding ways to circumvent protections provided
"The Commission is considering the privacy interests of
teens in its broader review of privacy generally," said Engle,
associate director for the FTC's Division of Advertising
Others argued that turning 13 by no means improves an
individual's judgment, and certain mistakes made as a teenager
could have repercussions into adulthood.
Bipartisan legislation introduced earlier in the year by
Representatives Edward Markey and Joe Barton extends
protections to teenagers.
"They need resources they can use that are designed for
their age group, not for lawyers who are well-versed in
privacy," said Alan Simpson, vice president of policy for
Common Sense Media, a public interest group.
Bono Mack told reporters after the hearing that she did not
have plans to hold a hearing on the Barton-Markey bill.
She added that while she hoped to move data security
legislation forward this year, privacy legislation still
required more information gathering.
(Reporting by Jasmin Melvin; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)