This article was published on October 6, 2011

Social networks inspire an update to a law protecting children’s online privacy

Social networks inspire an update to a law protecting children’s online privacy

Prompted by the surge of new users to social networking sites like Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, an update was proposed to the US online privacy rule for children. The 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) currently protects children under the age of 13, but some feel that this age roof should be lifted to include underage US citizens from 13 to 17 years of age as well.

COPPA currently requires websites and online service providers to verify that children using their services have consent from parents before their personal information is collected. The proposal not only asks for a lift in age limit to protect all minors, but also adds new methods to provide parental consent such as video-conferencing and electronic scans of signed forms.

Officials react.

Mary Bono Mack, chair in the House of Representatives commerce subcommittee, is very much against the proposed age limit bump and believes the FTC needs to exercise “common-sense restraint”. The current definition of a child is under the age of 13, and it wouldn’t make sense for COPPA to protect every minor.

“While kids are becoming more tech savvy at younger ages, their judgment and awareness of the dark side of the Internet is not growing at the same pace.”

Also against the proposed update is Stephen Balkam, founding CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute, who says that “raising the age would prompt a substantial increase in children lying about their age, negating protections afforded to younger kids.”

I personally agree that COPPA should be kept to children under the age of 13. Maturity and common sense hopefully are taught as a child ages, and it is up to the parent to ensure their children are well-educated. The learning curve for the FTC-defined age for young children is much different from an older and more educated teen, though some have definitely argued the contrary.

What do you think? Should the FTC raise the allotted age for children protected by COPPA? What do you think defines a “child” — is it anyone under the age of 18? Also, do you agree that it is up to the parent to educate their children in online privacy, or should this be learned through some other means? Weigh in below.