Policy & Privacy

Senators Urge FTC Against Weakening COPPA Rule

A bipartisan group of senators are asking the Federal Trade Commission to "prioritize children's privacy and well-being" when considering making changes to Children's Online Privacy Protection (COPPA) Rule.  FTC is holding a workshop today to hear from industry, consumer advocates and academics on the current state of children's privacy online, policy implications of app design and data collection and the role of developers.

Under COPPA, online companies who market their services to children must notify parents before collecting, using or disclosing information from children under 13 years of age. The FTC announced plans to review COPPA four years earlier than planned in July based on concerns about how the regulations should apply to the education technology sector, voice-enabled connected devices and platforms that host third-party child-directed content.

"Even though the COPPA Rule was not scheduled to be reviewed until 2023, the FTC decided to review the rule early because of 'changes in technology.' We agree that the Rule warrants updating, but we are concerned that the FTC is choosing to update the rule at a time when the Commission appears insufficiently appreciative of the threat some giant tech companies pose to children and parents," lawmakers write in a Oct. 4 letter.

The letter is signed by Senators Edward Markey (D-Mass.) Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).

The lawmakers criticize the FTC’s recent Google settlement over COPPA violations, citing that the $170 million fine "provided almost no deterrence value at all and was not paired with sufficient structural injunctions to prevent future violations by Google."

"As the FTC considers COPPA and broader privacy reforms, we urge you to prioritize enhancing protections for kids, not advancing the interests of data collectors. Reopening the COPPA Rule must not lead to the weakening of existing safeguards or open the way for diminished FTC enforcement of COPPA under the Commission's current authority," the senators write.

In August, Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Markey and Blumenthal sent a letter to 55 education technology organizations, including Google, Facebook, CollegeBoard, Blackboard and McGraw-Hill. The senators asked each company for information on their data collection practices, breach incidents and compliance policies for FERPA and COPPA.

The FTC is accepting public comments on how to revise the COPPA rule until Oct. 23.  The full announcement in the Federal Register can be found here.

The Oct. 7 workshop on COPPA is being livestreamed on the FTC's website. The full agenda for the conference can be found here.  

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe covering education policy and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

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