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FTC's new rules won't protect kids on Facebook

Consumer Reports News: September 16, 2011 09:23 AM

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While the new online child privacy rules proposed by the FTC yesterday would greatly improve privacy protections for children who use child-oriented sites like Disney, they would do nothing to adequately screen the 7.5 million underage children who use Facebook.

The FTC proposal would leave in place the current rule that a site directed at teenagers, adults or a general audience needn't apply child privacy protections unless it actually knows a user is under the age of 13. Since Facebook prohibits such children from the site, the new rules would, in effect, let Facebook continue to register, but not properly protect, the millions of children who lie about their age.

In developing the proposed rules, the FTC rejected the proposal, made by Internet privacy and security attorney Harry Valetk, that it require commercial website operators to make "reasonable efforts" to determine if a child is registering online. Valetk wrote that "too many operators turn a blind eye when child users falsify age information, and few face legal risk for deploying this passive approach."

The Commission reasons for rejecting Valetk's proposal include the argument that imposing such requirements might burden site operators by requiring them to "ferret through a host of circumstantial information."

In effect, the Commission reasons that it's better that millions of children who lie about their age on Facebook continue to go unprotected than that the company be required to devote resources to keep them off the site.

That's not the sort of reasoning I expect from a Federal Agency whose home page tag line is "Protecting America's Consumers."

For tips on protecting yourself and your children while surfing the Internet, check out Consumer Reports Guide to Online Security.

COPPA - Children's Online Privacy Protection Act [COPPA]
2010 COPPA Rule Review Comment by Harry Valetk, Esq. [FTC]
Update Urged on Children’s Online Privacy [NY Times]

Jeffrey Fox

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