Oregon, 42 states push feds for greater online privacy protections for children

March 12, 2024 – Oregon’s attorney general and three of her counterparts are leading a bipartisan coalition of 43 attorneys general in urging the Federal Trade Commission to update technology rules to protect children’s privacy.

Online protections for children younger than 13 are part of the rules  associated with the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, which was passed by Congress in 1998 and went into effect in 2000. As the attorneys general point out in a letter sent Monday, a lot has changed since then.

“It has been more than 10 years since the COPPA rule was amended to address the increased use of mobile devices and social networking,” the letter said. “The digital landscape is a much different place than it was in 2013. We urge the commission to update the COPPA rule to keep pace and give state attorneys general the tools they need to respond to a digital world rife with risk.”

The letter follows a proposal by the Federal Trade Commission in December to add new restrictions on the use and disclosure of children’s personal information and to further limit the ability of companies to monetize children’s data. The rules, designed to give parents control over their children’s  information, regulate how websites can collect, use and share information about children younger than 13. Its December proposal aims to shift the burden from parents to providers to ensure that digital services are safe for children. 

The attorneys general want the commission to expand the definition of “personal information” to keep up with changes related to smartphones and social networks that play an increasing role in everyone’s life – including children. They want the definition to include biometric data such as fingerprints, retina and iris patterns and DNA information. They also want the definition to include data on a child’s voice, stride and face, as well as avatars derived from a child’s image and likeness. 

The attorneys general are also asking the commission to adopt a comprehensive framework for determining whether services qualify for a proposed parental consent exception, and to prohibit operators from abusing an exception by using push notifications.

“Push notifications serve to draw children back onto a platform when they were otherwise engaged in a different activity,” the letter said. “This deluge threatens to disrupt children’s sleep, distract from their education and detract from family activities and personal hobbies. Operators should not be permitted to promote further engagement with their platforms via push notifications absent prior parental consent.” 

Recent legal action

Attorneys general and the commission are authorized to pursue legal action over any COPPA violations and have done so as Congress, legislatures and regulatory agencies have become increasingly interested in protecting children’s privacy. Last June, the commission reached a settlement with Microsoft over alleged COPPA violations associated with its Xbox Live gaming network, requiring Microsoft to bolster the product’s privacy protections for children. And in October, Rosenblum, along with attorneys general in more than 30 other states, filed a lawsuit against Meta, alleging that the parent company of Facebook and Instagram falsely assured the public that its platforms were safe while knowing they were addictive and harmful to children’s mental health.  

“The technology-fueled harms that our nation’s youth face are real and growing,” Rosenblum said in a release Monday. 

As president of the National Association of Attorneys General, she is leading the campaign for stiffer protections for children with her counterparts in Illinois, Mississippi and Tennessee. Also joining the letter are the attorneys general of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, U.S. Virgin Islands, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

By Lynne Terry, Oregon Capital Chronicle
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