RE: Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule Amendment - Comment, P994504
The authors are attorneys who represent web business, and our particular focus is on the children's web industry. Often called "the Kids' Internet Lawyers," we represent many members of the children's Internet industry, which range in size from some of the largest and most popular sites to some of the smallest as well as start-ups. In addition, Parry Aftab is in her own right a child safety and privacy advocate (and author of the book, The Parent's Guide to Protecting Your Children in Cyberspace), as well as Executive Director of Cyberangels (www.cyberangels.org) and President of Wired Kids (www.wiredkids.org).(1) As such, we submit these comments regarding the Federal Trade Commission's proposal to extend by two years the expiration date of the "e-mail plus" method of obtaining parental consent under 16 C.F.R. 312.5, implementing the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 ("COPPA").
We strongly support the proposed amendment, in all our capacities.
The FTC's adoption of the sliding scale of consent, of which "e-mail plus" is a part, and the current proposal to extend its operation by two years, reflects the FTC's continuing sensitivity to balancing the needs of the children's internet industry with its mission to protect consumers and, most particularly, children. Under the FTC's Rule, e-mail plus is only available if the website is collecting personal information for its own internal use, and not disclosing it to third parties nor allowing children to use interactive features where they could themselves disclose their personal information. With this lower risk activity, the convenience of both the website and the parent are served by permitting the parent to give initial consent via an e-mail, with follow-up verification required (such as a delayed confirmatory email, telephone call, or mail).
Parents have been slow to respond to requests for consent. From busy soccer moms and dads to corporate workers and executives, parents have overwhelming demands on their time. The easier the consent process is, the better the response rates will be - always keeping in mind the need to have the consent "verified." The needs of the industry and the parents dovetail with the use of e-mail plus consent, thus leading to the result to which all aspire: informed parents giving consent for children to use child-friendly sites.
Parents appreciate the convenience of the e-mail plus consent process, particularly as it is coupled with low-risk privacy concerns where information will not be disclosed. The FTC is wise not to mandate the use of a superior technology that is not broadly used, as that would frustrate parents rather than accomplishing the purpose of the legislation and implementing Rules, which is to provide parents with notice and a "reasonable" means of granting consent.
Digital verification systems that would give additional assurance of identity are not now generally in use. Even digital signatures, which have existed for years, are not widely used by the general public. In response to the FTC's particular questions, we believe that a two year extension makes sense in the existing climate. The pace of technology cannot be predicted, but a 24-month period provides an opportunity to assess the climate in a reasonable time frame. Technological advances in digital identity and verification products should not be slowed by this extension. People will continue to develop technology in the hope of achieving broad market acceptance, and privacy issues continue to be of concern to the general public. Thus, the market for such products should not be affected by the extension of the sliding scale, but rather will give the developers time to make advances in technology, and the public time to adopt any such advances.
By keeping the sliding scale tied to a specific expiration date, rather than being extended indefinitely, the Rule prepares operators for the eventual phasing-in of improved verification techniques. Should circumstances require further time, additional extensions can be made at such later date.
In conclusion, as stated previously, we fully support the FTC's proposed amendment to 16 C.F.R. 312.5, and are available for testimony or further comments.
1. Cyberangels is the world's largest online safety and help group, with over 10,000 volunteers in 76 countries. WiredKids.org is a web site and non-profit group dedicated to making sure that all children have a safe and educationally valuable Internet experience. Its mission includes helping identify and build positive educational uses of the Internet and resources for parents, teachers, schools and librarians.