The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has proposed amendments to rules issued under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which requires the owners and operators of Websites intended for children younger than age 13 to obtain “verifiable consent from parents before collecting, using, or disclosing such information from children.” The amendments apparently seek to address recent changes in how children access the Internet as well as innovations in social media and other online services. According to a September 15, 2011, FTC press release, the proposal would modify the COPPA rule in five areas: (i) “definitions, including the definitions of ‘personal information’ and ‘collection’”; (ii) “parental notice”; (iii) “parental consent mechanisms”; (iv) “confidentiality and security of children’s personal information”; and (v) “the role of self-regulatory ‘safe harbor’ programs.”

Notably, the amendments would expand the definition of “personal information” to include “geolocation information and certain types of persistent identifiers used for functions other than the Website’s internal operations, such as tracking cookies used for behavioral advertising.” FTC would also stipulate that parental notification take place in “a succinct ‘just-in-time’ notice, and not just a privacy policy,” while offering new parental consent mechanisms such as electronically scanned consent forms, video-conferencing and government-issued identification, “provided that the parent’s ID is deleted promptly after verification is done.” At the same time, the updated rule would eliminate “the less reliable method of parental consent, known as ‘e-mail plus’,” strengthen confidentiality and security requirements for any service provider or third-parties trusted with a child’s personal information, and increase FTC’s oversight of “safe harbor programs” that enable industry groups to implement COPPA provisions via self-regulatory guidelines.  

“In this era of rapid technological change, kids are often tech savvy but judgment poor. We want to ensure that the COPPA Rule is effective in helping parents protect their children online, without unnecessarily burdening online businesses. We look forward to the continuing thoughtful input from industry, children’s advocates, and other stakeholders as we work to update the Rule,” said FTC Chair Jon Leibowitz. The agency will accept comments on the proposed amendments until November 28, 2011.