Consequences

Kids’ Privacy Regulations and the Law of Unintended Consequences

A new set of federal regulations intended to protect kids online ironically may end up decimating kid-friendly content on the Internet.

NetChoice this week filed comments with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Our submission highlights severe flaws with the new rules, which could dramatically limit the amount of safe, constructive content available to kids online.

The biggest problem with the new rules is that they represent a unauthorized, unsupported expansion of COPPA, a law that has effectively protected kids’ personal information for more than a decade.

The overbroad new definitions for sites “directed to children” could sweep in thousands of sites not currently covered under COPPA, which to date has been focused on sites that tailor their offerings to kids under the age of 13.

YouTube could try to cordon off content that appeals to kids, but an easier, safer approach would be to remove it completely, which would serve the COPPA rule, but wouldn’t do very much for your favorite Cub Scout.

Take the example of Pinewoodderby.org, a site devoted to helping Cub Scouts refine their classic homemade wooden racecars. One of the key features on the site is a link to YouTube videos demonstrating techniques for making the perfect racer.

But under the FTC’s proposed rules, if YouTube had “reason to know” that its content – hosted by Pinewoodderby.com – was “likely to attract children,” the site could be heavily penalized for commonplace advertising and cookie practices.

YouTube could try to cordon off content that appeals to kids, but an easier, safer approach would be to remove it completely, which would serve the COPPA rule, but wouldn’t do very much for your favorite Cub Scout.

Our comments detail several more examples, and to be honest, they weren’t that difficult to find. The proposed COPPA rules are such a dramatic expansion of the present standard that they are likely to affect tens of thousands of sites.

In all cases, the easiest “fix” for avoiding the strict guidelines and stiff penalties provided under COPPA will be to avoid generating or supporting kid-friendly content. Sites that can afford to drop kid-friendly content (not a huge hurdle, given that kids are not major consumers) will do so in a heartbeat, rather than risk liability.

To protect kids from bicycle accidents you provide guidance and safety equipment, you don’t throw their bikes in the dumpster.

COPPA was bipartisan legislation, widely praised, that has been implemented successfully to protect kids for well over a decade.  And the COPPA rule continues to establish strict but fair standards for sites catering to children, and those standards remain valid to this day.

The way you protect kids from bicycle accidents is to provide proper guidance and safety equipment, not to throw their bikes in the dumpster.

 

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