Children's Online Privacy: Is COPPA Doing More Harm Than Good?

Oct 29, 2012

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The FTC, the organization that is responsible for The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), has recently proposed some changes to the act, which was implemented in 2000. COPPA prevents websites from gathering personal information from children under thirteen without parental consent. The act was meant to prevent advertisers targeting children, but technology has changed in the last twelve years, and advertisers are continually finding new ways to target kids online. The changes to the act are well-meant, but one organization, connectsafely.org, is arguing that the proposed changes could do as much harm as good.

One proposal is that IP addresses be classified as personally identifiable information. Most websites gather the IP addresses of visitors, and if parents are made to verify their children's identities, then their IP addresses could possibly be linked to them, which is the very violation of privacy the act is trying to prevent.

Another proposal could result in smaller companies going out of business because they are spending too much of their resources on compliance. Meanwhile, the companies that already violate children's privacy because they don't bother complying will be able to remain in business.

The last concern is that the new rules could be too specific, and technology will simply move on, making the legislation obsolete.

Protecting children's online privacy is a worthy cause, and the FTC should certainly be commended for seeking to do so. But introducing rules that do more harm than good is not the way to go about it. The FTC should examine their proposed rules carefully, and determine whether there are any unintended consequences that might hurt the privacy of the very children they're trying to protect.

I work for ContentWatch and all opinions expressed here are my own.