Legislators ‘Approve’ of Changes FTC made to COPPA in House Hearing
On Wednesday, the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade held a hearing on the adequacy of the current protections provided by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”) and the Federal Trade Commission’s recent proposed changes to the COPPA Rule. The subcommittee heard testimony from Mary Engle of the FTC, as well as representatives from SSP Blue, the Association for Competitive Technology, the Family Online Safety Institute, American University, and Common Sense Media. The witnesses testified regarding the significant changes proposed by the FTC such as expanding definitions to provide additional protection to geo-location information and persistent identifiers such as tracking cookies; requiring additional notice regarding collection, use and sharing of information; toughening the standards for verifiable parental consent mechanisms; requiring FTC oversight of the Safe Harbor programs; and adding data retention and deletion provisions, while maintaining the age threshold, the “actual knowledge” standard as applied to websites that are not targeted towards children; or the definitions of “internet” and “online services.”
At the hearing the FTC’s proposed changes were generally met with approval by both Republicans and Democrats on the subcommittee. Chairman Mary Bono Mack (R –California), praised the FTC’s “careful, thorough and thoughtful review of COPPA,” and said that in her opinion the FTC hit the “sweet spot,” striking the appropriate balance between providing sufficient protections for children without hampering innovation and “stifl[ing] growth of the Internet by moving forward in a new policy area without a really good, smart game plan in place.” Representative Butterfield (D – North Carolina) similarly praised the FTC for exercising its authority “carefully and deliberately.” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Illinois) was generally positive about the proposed changes but also stressed that striking a proper balance was crucial as the technological development in Internet applications is one of very few “bright spots in the American economy.” It should be noted that Chairman Mack’s remarks didn’t lay the responsibility for protecting children solely on website providers, but also stressed the important role that parents play in ensuring their children’s privacy, encouraging them to check websites and privacy policies and ensure their children understand the dangers of online predators.