FTC to Step Up Enforcement of Kids Online Privacy Rules

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The Federal Trade Commission on Thursday unanimously approved a policy statement calling for a step-up in the enforcement of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act as it relates to the software and devices used by millions of children for school.

The statement doesn’t change FTC policies related to the collection of data on kids, but rather calls for prioritizing the enforcement of the 20-year-old COPPA in connection with educational technology.

Digital privacy and children’s advocates have long called for the act, which was last revised in 2012, to be updated to better reflect the data collection practices of current technology. The push intensified during the pandemic as many children were forced to switch to virtual learning, dramatically increasing the amount of time they spent online, as well as the quantity of personal information collected as they complete their schoolwork.

FTC Chair Lina Khan says the statement underscores that children have a right to be educated without having to “surrender to the surveillance” of tech companies. She added that there are early indications that some educational tech companies may be collecting far more data than they need, creating a risk that some students could be profiled and targeted if that data were ever exposed in a breach.

Under COPPA, companies are barred from collecting children’s data without the consent of their parents, but must give children access to educational technologies even if parents or schools decline the companies’ request to collect certain information.

Companies also can’t use data collected on children for commercial purposes like marketing or advertising. Any stored data must be adequately protected from possible theft, and companies aren’t allowed to retain children’s data any longer than necessary.

Some of the commissioners said the the FTC needs to do more to protect children’s privacy by strengthening its own rules. An FTC review of the rule put in place by COPPA has been underway since 2019.

Commissioner Christine Wilson said that if the statement prompts some companies to voluntarily review and revise their practices, that’s great. But she said she’s concerned it could give the illusion that the FTC is taking action.

“Hopefully, we turn to the important task of completing the rule review,” she said, adding that she urges the FTC to “prioritize and complete it swiftly.”
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