Privacy groups say parents want more protections for kids online

A new survey has found broad support for government rules aimed at protecting kids’ privacy online, according to a pair of watchdog groups that commissioned the poll and are hoping it will influence the debate as federal officials consider proposals for a broad expansion of those rules.

According to the sponsors, the survey found 80 percent of adults disagreed when asked if it’s ok for advertisers to collect information about a child’s online activities, even if the advertiser doesn’t know the child’s name or address.

And 91 percent of adults don’t think advertisers should be able to collect information about a child’s location from the child’s mobile phone, according to the survey, released Thursday by Common Sense Media and the Center for Digital Democracy.

The survey also found 90 percent support for requiring online businesses to get parents’ permission before collecting personal information from kids under age 13. That’s an essential element of the 14-year-old federal law known as the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA.

It’s not entirely surprising that people would give those answers when asked those questions. While most people probably don’t realize the extent of tracking that occurs on the Internet, kids’ safety is always a hot-button issue.

The two groups that sponsored the survey are hoping to underscore those concerns at a time when major Internet and entertainment companies are arguing against the Federal Trade Commission’s proposal for extending current COPPA rules to a variety of online and mobile apps and services. FTC Chairman Jon Liebowitz has said he hopes the agency will decide on new rules before the end of the year.

The FTC is also considering whether to require parental permission before companies track kids under 13 with “persistent identifiers” – digital code that can help businesses target an Internet user by his or her interests, even without knowing the person’s name.

Those proposals have alarmed Internet companies like Facebook, Google and Apple, as well as entertainment conglomerates such as Viacom and Disney. The companies say they’re all for protecting kids, but the proposed new rules are would be unwieldy and perhaps unfair.

Facebook for example says it doesn’t let kids under 13 use its service (although some kids lie about their age and get on Facebook anyway), but it doesn’t want to be liable if kids visit an outside site that happens to have a Facebook “like” button. Google and Apple are concerned about being held responsible for third-party programs distributed through their app stores.

Common Sense Media’s James Steyer says parents want those rules. “The industry argues that updates to COPPA will stifle innovation and cost jobs,” he said in a statement, “when in fact, they should respect the role of parents and use it to build consumer trust.”

(Illustration credit: MCT / Columbus Ledger-Enquirer)



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