Appearing before the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade, a Federal Trade Commission staffer testified about the agency’s recently released proposed changes to the Children’s Online Protection Privacy Act Rule.

“The Commission takes seriously the challenge to ensure that COPPA continues to meet its originally stated goals, even as children’s interactive media use moves and changes at warp speed,” according to the testimony by the agency’s associate director for advertising practices, Mary K. Engle.

At the hearing, “Protecting Children’s Privacy in an Electronic World,” Engle told lawmakers that in the 11 years since the Rule’s enactment, the agency has brought 17 COPPA enforcement actions that have garnered more than $6.2 million in civil penalties.

She noted the challenges of enforcing the Rule, particularly with regard to social media, and highlighted recent actions that include the record $3 million civil penalty against the developer of virtual online worlds and the first COPPA case involving mobile applications, which resulted in a $50,000 fine.

The agency proposed modifications to the COPPA Rule in September.

Engle said the changes are intended to improve operator compliance and address evolving technology, particularly the way children access and use the Internet.

The agency proposed changes in five areas: definitions, parental notice, parental consent mechanisms, confidentiality and security of children’s personal information, and safe harbor programs. Engle touched on all of the major changes, one of which will broaden the definition of “personal information” to include persistent identifiers like an IP address and geolocation data. This change will protect children from behaviorally targeted advertising, according to the testimony: “While the Commission is not aware of any operator directing online behavioral advertising to children, the Commission hopes to obtain further information during the comment period.” To ensure parents receive information up front, the FTC proposed changes to the parental notice requirements by specifying the precise information that operators must provide to parents for each different form of direct notice required by the Rule, with hyperlinks to additional information online. “In the Commission’s experience, privacy policies are often long and difficult to understand, and may not be the most effective way to communicate salient information to consumers, including parents,” Engle said.

To read the text of the FTC testimony, click here.

Why it matters: The FTC is accepting public comment on the proposed changes to the Rule until Nov. 28, 2011. Lawmakers at the hearing expressed support for the proposed changes, and given repeated legislative calls for updating COPPA, made clear that operators should prepare for changes in the near future.