New rules for kids' privacy on the Web?

Sept. 28, 2012 at 7:26 PM
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 28 (UPI) -- The U.S. Federal Trade Commission says it is preparing to take the most significant actions in a decade to protect children going online.

Children's advocates say the new rules, expected within weeks, are necessary as more and more corporations, app developers and data miners collect information about the online activities of millions of children who are going on the Internet without their parents' awareness.

"Today, almost every child has a computer in his pocket and it's that much harder for parents to monitor what their kids are doing online, who they are interacting with, and what information they are sharing," Mary K. Engle of the advertising practices division at the FTC said. "The concern is that a lot of this may be going on without anybody's knowledge."

Although data gathering on the Internet is legal, the proposed changes could increase requirements for children's sites to obtain parental permission for some practices, The New York Times reported.

The current federal rule, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, requires Web site operators to obtain parental consent before collecting information like phone numbers or physical addresses from children under 13. Rapid advances in technology, especially tracking capabilities, have overwhelmed the rules, privacy advocates say.

A study last year of 54 Web sites popular with children found many used such tracking technologies extensively.

"I was surprised to find that pretty much all of the same technologies used to track adults are being used on kids' Web sites," said Richard M. Smith, a security expert based in Boston who conducted the study.

The FTC's proposed rule change would require children's websites to obtain parents' permission before tracking children around the Web for advertising purposes, even when using anonymous customer codes.

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