What makes a joke funny is that there is often a kernel of underlying truth. And when Senator Rockefeller quipped that COPPA’s age should be extended beyond 12 to age 18, or even 25, nervous laughter followed. Because unfortunately there’s existing movement afoot from some advocates to expand COPPA’s reach and scope to adolescents.
I attended this morning’s Congressional hearing on the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), and based on what transpired online companies will have to be on the lookout for efforts to create a new privacy regime for adolescents (13-17).
Senate Commerce (Consumer Protection Subcommittee) heard testimony from Facebook, Microsoft, PFF, Kathryn Montgomery, EPIC, and the FTC. Members at the hearing were: Rockefeller, Pryor, Wicker, and Klobuchar.
The hearing was convened to learn about how new technologies impact children privacy in the context of the FTC’s current review of COPPA. Through the prepared testimony, it was clear that there were two camps for the role of Congress:
1. Congress doesn’t need to amend or propose new legislation. The FTC has sufficient authority to make changes to COPPA, as only minor changes are needed
2. Congress needs to be involved. New laws are needed to address privacy harms to children and adolescents due to new digital marketing techniques: behavioral targeting and invisible data collection practices.
Marc Rotenberg and Kathryn Montgomery were both quick to say that adolescents have NO protections, and thus there is a gap. They called for fair information and marketing practices to protect the privacy of adolescents, implying that this could be done with the cooperation of industry, just like what happened with COPPA. Rotenberg chided business practices “designed to conceal” what they collect and do with personal information.
Sen. Pryor asked why does COPPA stop at age 13? Why not up to 18? Facebook responded that we need to include older children into our digital society, that social networking and other online communications have been overwhelmingly positive for children. Montgomery agreed with this assertion, but said it’s not about blocking access to older children, it’s about being transparent and not collecting data.
Sen. Pryor also asked about age verification…is there a good way to age verify? Rotenberg agreed that it’s not perfect. Still, maybe it’s worth trying. Berin Szoka debunked this, saying that there’s no good way to age verify, and the process of age verifying actually puts more information into the hands of private companies, reducing privacy!
So here’s one to end on: how many members of Congress does it take to revise COPPA? None! The FTC can (and should) do it! And that’s no joke.