The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that modifies several definitions previously put forward under its rule implementing the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA Rule). In particular, FTC seeks to further revise the COPPA Rule’s definitions for (i) “personal information,” (ii) “support for internal operations,” (iii) “Website or online service directed to children,” and (iv) “operator,” so as to “clarify the scope of the Rule and strengthen its protections for children’s personal information.”  

According to the commission, a September 2011 NPRM originally suggested changing the COPPA Rule’s definitions of personal information to include “persistent identifiers and screen or user names other than where they are used to support internal operations,” and Website or online service directed at children to include “additional indicia that a site or service may be targeted to children.” After reviewing the comments submitted in response to these draft amendments, FTC has now proposed modifying the definitions of both operator and Website or online services directed at children to treat both child-directed sites and third-party information collectors—“e.g., advertising networks or downloadable software kits (‘plug-ins’)”—as co-operators responsible under COPPA for notifying parents and obtaining verifiable parental consent before collecting children’s personal information.  

“Sites and services whose content is directed to children, and who permit others to collect personal information from their child visitors, benefit from that collection and thus should be responsible under COPPA for providing notice to and obtaining consent from parents,” states the commission’s August 6, 2012, Federal Register notice. “Conversely, online services whose business models entail the collection of personal information and that know or have reason to know that such information is collected through child-directed properties should provide COPPA’s protections.”  

FTC has also recommended allowing Websites or online services “that are designed for both children and a broader audience to comply with COPPA without treating all users as children.” It has further proposed amending the definition of screen or user name “to cover only those situations where a screen name or user name functions in the same manner as online contact information.” FTC will accept written comments on the definition changes until September 10, 2012, but is not adopting any final amendments to the COPPA Rule while it continues to review responses to its initial NPRM. See Federal Register, August 6, 2012.