The FTC Doesn't Want Ad Companies Tracking Kids' Data Online Until They're At Least 13

If you’re going to go after kids’ data and try to figure out how best to market to them, the Federal Trade Commission doesn’t want that to happen until they’re at least the ripe old age of 14. The regulators are proposing an update to 1998′s Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act that would increase privacy for kids online, crack down on websites and third-parties seeking to gobble up their data, and shore up defenses for kids on mobile devices.

The FTC says now is the time to take another look at how things stand with the COPPA because of the wide proliferation of mobile devices that kids use alongside adults these days to access the Internet. Especially worrisome are third parties like data brokers, which the FTC thinks website owners should be responsible for.

For example — a child might not have its data tracked by a site like Disney.com, which requires parental permission to collect email addresses and the like, but if the kid clicks on a Facebook or Twitter icon on the site, is that click being recorded and collected?

According to Reuters, the FTC had no clue mobile Internet usage would explode as crazily as it did in the last 14 years.

“The commission did not foresee how easy and commonplace it would become for child-directed sites and services to integrate social networking and other personal information collection features into the content offered to their users, without maintaining ownership, control or access to the personal data,” the commission said in its proposed rule.

The update to the rule, which is an amendment to a year-old proposal, says that any family websites should be allowed to screen users for age and then provide COPPA protection to those under 13. Parents who might use the site wouldn’t be protected once they verify their ages. Right now, any family website treats all users as if they’re under 13.

Any personal information, including IP addresses or anything that sites use to recognize users across different sites must get parental permission to be collected while the child is online, according to the FTC’s proposal.

Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of our elder siblings at Consumer Reports, praised the proposal.

“COPPA is an important tool to protect children online. In order for it to remain effective, however, we must ensure that the law’s interpretation keeps up with the rapid advancement of technology,” said Ioana Rusu, regulatory counsel for Consumers Union. “The additional modifications proposed by the FTC today would close some loopholes and give parents the peace of mind that their children aren’t being tracked on websites designed for kids without permission.”

While some critics might be in favor of using such rules for any minors, the 13 rule is kind of like a PG-13 movie — once you’re 14 you’re totally fair game.

FTC proposes tougher rules for children’s privacy online [Reuters]