US FTC strengthens online children's privacy rules

The new rules require websites targeting children to get parental permission before collecting geolocation data and photos

By , IDG News Service |  IT Management

Websites, mobile apps and online advertising networks targeting children will be required to follow new privacy regulations, including getting a parent's permission before collecting geolocation information and photographs from kids, under new rules announced Wednesday by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

The new rules, a revision of existing regulations under the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), also require websites and other online services to get parental permission before collecting IP addresses and mobile devices IDs for children under age 13.

The changes to the rules, praised by privacy advocates, also require third-party companies collecting information on websites targeted at children to get a parent's permission, closing a "loophole" that allowed some plug-ins to collect children's personal information without getting permission, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said during a press conference.

Changes to the FTC's COPPA rule are needed because the Internet has changed significantly, with an explosion of smartphones, mobile apps and social networking, since Congress passed COPPA in 1998, Leibowitz said.

"The Internet of 2012 is vastly different than the Internet of 14 years ago," he said. "Some companies, especially some ad networks, have an insatiable desire to collect information from kids."

The new rules, scheduled to go into effect in July, are designed to give online businesses that provide services to children clear guidelines about collecting personal data, Leibowitz said. The new rules do not prohibit advertising to children online, he said, but address the collection of personal data to deliver targeted, or behavioral, advertising.

"Our rule is simple, effective and straightforward," he said. "Until and unless you get parental consent, you may not track children to build massive profiles for behavioral advertising."

Four U.S. lawmakers attending the press conference praised the changes to the COPPA rules. The new rules will help prevent third-party companies on websites from using "technological tricks" to children's personal information, said Senator John "Jay" Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat.

Strengthening the rules is "so much a no-brainer," Rockefeller added. "It should be a universal issue."

The FTC, in strengthening the rules, is doing "the lord's work," said Representative Joe Barton, a Texas Republican.

The rules create a new, streamlined process at the FTC for online companies to propose new ways to get parental permission to collect information. The rules also require online companies to take reasonable steps to release children's personal information only to companies that can keep it secure and confidential.

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