Representatives Ed Markey (D-MA) and Joe Barton (R-TX) took a major step to protect the privacy of kids online by introducing "Do Not Track Kids" legislation.
The Congressmen should be commended for listening to the concerns of families and for taking action by drafting a bill that places kids and teens front and center.
Children's online privacy involves two key concepts: our fundamental right to privacy and our need to protect our children from potential harm. At the moment, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which prohibits the collection of "personally identifiable" information from kids ages 12 and under without parental consent, is the cornerstone policy protecting children's online privacy.
But COPPA was written before 1998, long before the advent of social networks like Facebook, information aggregators like Google, social game sites like Zynga and geolocation announcers like Foursquare -- all sites with business models based on tracking online activities.
Kids and teens are being tracked even more than adults, and marketed to without permission while companies make huge profits off the data -- and that is wrong. Do Not Track Kids would update and strengthen the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by doing the following:
- Add new -- and distinct -- privacy protections for kids 13 and older, including prohibiting targeted marketing and collection/use of geolocation data without parental consent (or consent of the teen, for older teens). (It is important to note that the bill would not change the age of COPPA,which applies to kids under 12.)
- Limit companies from sharing users' information with other companies or operators, except for core purposes (e.g., the function of the site or service).
- Call for companies and operators to create "Eraser Button" technologies that enable parents -- and teens -- to remove their personal information from a site or service.
- Update COPPA to reflect new technology, including mobile devices and geolocation, and call for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to update COPPA rules.
It is disappointing that after years of complaints from consumers, the industry has done nothing to help families protect kids online. It is promising and refreshing to see members of both parties come together in the interest of kids and families, and we hope that the industry will finally realize that they have to take the privacy of consumers seriously. Parents can get involved in these issues by visiting www.donottrackkids.org. It is time to step up and make it easier for parents and kids to protect themselves. Through a combination of legislative action and advocacy, we can make the web safer for kids.