Federal efforts to protect children online would create new regulations that stifle innovation and actually decrease the availability of child-directed services.
The original goal of the Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) statute was to prevent the unauthorized contacting of children when they went online. This was, and still is a good idea.
However, the latest iteration of the COPPA regulations shows that the goal is no longer to prevent the contacting of children but instead to prevent any advertising to children. Right now, websites know if they must obtain parental consent. The latest proposed changes to COPPA would expand the need to get parental consent to thousands of sites, of which 80-90% will be small businesses, those least capable of absorbing these new costs.
As the scope and scale of the regulations grow, we’ll see a shrinking of incentives for businesses to create new ways to help children learn and play online.
Worst of all, as the scope and scale of the regulations grow, we’ll see a shrinking of incentives for businesses to create new ways to help children learn and play online. These changes lead one COPPA expert to say, “a real burden exists and, … competition and innovation could suffer…Which means fewer options for both parents and kids, or, it could also mean that we start seeing prices go up where none currently exist.” In our comments on the FTC’s proposed changes to COPPA, we say these changes would:
- remove educational apps on children’s websites,
- strike social networking functionality from teen websites, and
- discourage future innovation for children’s learning
…all while increasing burdens and costs on parents. We agree that businesses should work to keep kids safe when they are online. However, we worry that rather than encouraging businesses to create safe child-oriented areas on their sites, these new regulations would just encourage them to kick the kids out completely.
The FTC should avoid imposing impossible new burdens on online actors which would decrease online services and innovation for children. Instead, the FTC should put its energy into enforcement of current laws and educating parents since they–not the government–are in the best position to shepherd their children through the online world.