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FTC Amends Rules Regarding Data Collection Of Personal Information Of Minors

Last month, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) clarified and strengthened its rules regarding the collection of personal data of minors under the age of 13. In its announcement, the FTC stated:

"1. Modify the list of “personal information” that cannot be collected without parental notice and consent, clarifying that this category includes geolocation information, photographs, and videos;
2. Offer companies a streamlined, voluntary and transparent approval process for new ways of getting parental consent;
3. close a loophole that allowed kid-directed apps and websites to permit third parties to collect personal information from children through plug-ins without parental notice and consent;
4. Extend coverage in some of those cases so that the third parties doing the additional collection also have to comply with COPPA;
5. Extend the COPPA Rule to cover persistent identifiers that can recognize users over time and across different websites or online services, such as IP addresses and mobile device IDs;
6. Strengthen data security protections by requiring that covered website operators and online service providers take reasonable steps to release children’s personal information only to companies that are capable of keeping it secure and confidential
7. Require that covered website operators adopt reasonable procedures for data retention and deletion; and
8. Strengthen the FTC’s oversight of self-regulatory safe harbor programs.

The new rules become effective July 1, 2013. The rules are part of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) enacted in 1998. The COPPA rules include personal information elements such as the child's full name, home address, email address, telephone number, or any other information that would allow someone to identify or contact the child. As they should, the new rules add more data elements. The FTC stated in its blog:

"The definition of personal information now includes geolocation information, as well as photos, videos, and audio files that contain a child’s image or voice. Also covered: persistent identifiers that can be used to recognize a user over time and across different websites or online services. But there’s a notable exception: COPPA’s parental notice and consent requirements don’t kick in if the identifier is used solely to support the internal operations of the site or service."

It strikes me that the above exception, or loophole, could be used to avoid and abuse consumer information. Those "persistent identifiers" are key since they are used by the online advertising networks, and enable both online tracking and behavioral advertising. Plus, there is a long history of repeated abuse of consumers' sensitive personal information by companies using zombie cookies, Flash cookies, zombie e-tags, search hijacking, and leaky apps on mobile devices. In September 2012, the FTC issued guidelines for mobile app developers.

Companies are advised to watch the FTC Children's Privacy page for additional updates.

In an ideal world, COPPA rules would not stop at age 13, but extend to age 18, the usual age of majority. It would have been better if the amended COPPA rules explicitly mentioned facial recognition.


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