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New online safety rules protect children online

By Retail Technology | Friday July 19 2013

Industry digests impact of updated online child safety laws on content providers and merchants in the US and beyond

New rules and regulations that aim to protect children accessing online sites took effect in the US at the start of this month. 

The updates made to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) are more relevant for social media and mobile usage, according to US news agency NBC News

Despite objections from industry groups requesting a postponement, these new rules have gone live in the US, putting greater pressure on companies that actively target consumers under the age of 13. 

Mobile tracking permissions

Mobile apps and websites that collect geolocation data or photos from children are now required to obtain the express permission from their parents or legal guardians. The new rules place this information in the same category as email or home addresses of underage users, and therefore puts far greater responsibility on firms for third party data collection. 

The impact of these changes will mostly be felt by third-party developers, who target children through social media platforms, such as Facebook. Bradley Shear, a privacy law expert said: “I believe these updates will require Facebook to become more vigilant about policing the apps they allow on their website. The Federal Trade Commission has fired a warning shot to not only Facebook but to other digital ecosystems that they must do a better job of ensuring that they protect the personal privacy of children.”

Many websites with age-restrictive content, such as gambling sites like MoneyGaming, already apply responsible customer policies to ensure their content is not consumed by underage individuals. However, these changes will extend this security to social networks and mobile apps and take online protection one step further, by requesting parental permission via email or other forms of contact. 

Adding to online regulatory burden

The rues still see parents as responsible for assuring that children do not circumvent these procedures in order to grant themselves access, for example by creating fake email addresses. But some companies have raised concerns regarding the new rules, stating that, not only could young users who are technologically savvy find ways to gain access to adult services without having to require parental permission, it may also discourage firms from producing apps directed towards children.

Law firm Hogan Lovells, who specialise in privacy, wrote of the regulations: “The Rule may be counterproductive, lessening the quality and scope of content directed specifically towards children, which may encourage more children to visit general audience sites.”

The Federal Trade Commission, who is in charge of keeping the COPPA legislation up to date, responded to these concerns by stating that they would not be heavy-handed with enforcement. 

Easy on smaller businesses

The agency stated: “We continue to be mindful of the impact of the Rule on businesses. As with all of our enforcement activities, the Commission will exercise prosecutorial discretion in enforcing the Rule, particularly with respect to small businesses that have attempted to comply with the Rule in good faith in the early months.”

Privacy advocacy group, The Centre for Digital Democracy, welcomed the changes and praised them for updating the Act, which was originally passed in 1998, to make it more relevant in the 'big data' age. “Today marks an important moment for parents of children 12 and under,” stated Jeff Chester, the group’s executive director. “Finally their child’s privacy online – whether they use a mobile phone, tablet, gaming device or computer – is protected.” 

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