AG Shapiro Urges FTC to Strengthen Online Protections for Children

December 10, 2019 | Topic: Consumers

HARRISBURG – Attorney General Josh Shapiro and a bipartisan coalition of 25 state Attorneys General have submitted a comment letter to the Federal Trade Commission asking it to strengthen its rules prohibiting websites, mobile applications, and other digital marketing companies from collecting personal information from children under the age of 13 and using that information to track children across the internet.

“Internet companies have a legal responsibility to protect children and new approaches to data mining and sharing are putting kids at risk—I won’t accept that,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “Their privacy is being taken away by companies that want to use the innocence of youth to make big money. There were many good reasons why the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act came into being 23 years ago, and there are many more reasons that the law should be strengthened in this digital age.”

Shapiro said many websites and mobile applications collect personal information from users, including geolocation information, browser histories, search histories, voice recordings, and more. In 1996, Congress passed the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or “COPPA,” prohibiting this type of data collection from children under the age of 13. The FTC and all state Attorneys General are empowered to enforce COPPA, though only the FTC is empowered to issue regulations based on that law.

Among other things, Shapiro and the coalition are urging the FTC to expand its definitions of personal information to include things like faceprints that unlock consumers’ cell phones, health data from internet-connected smart watches, and kids’ genetic information.

The  letter also urges the FTC to clamp down on companies that embed code in children’s mobile applications and collect data to serve children behavioral advertising, and to examine how the rules apply to school-issued laptops that are “free” so long as companies get to collect information from the students using them. The Attorneys General also urged the FTC not to create exceptions to the rule that would allow massive websites like YouTube to skirt COPPA’s requirements.

Joining Attorney General Shapiro in this letter are Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.

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