Advertising Review Unit
Via Electronic Mail
November 28, 2001
Dear Mr. Secretary:
The Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus appreciates this opportunity to submit comments on the Commission's proposed amendment extending by two years the expiration of the "e-mail plus" method of obtaining verifiable parental consent under 16 CFR 312 implementing the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA).
CARU is the children's advertising arm of the advertising industry's self-regulation program, overseen by a strategic alliance of the AAAA, AAF, ANA and CBBB known as the National Advertising Review Council. CARU's Self-Regulatory Guidelines for Children's Advertising include voluntary guidelines for the collection and use of personal information from children under 13 that largely provided the model for COPPA, including the requirements for parental consent. CARU monitors Websites directed to, or drawing significant numbers of children, works with Web operators to achieve compliance with its Guidelines, publishes reports of its compliance reviews, and refers cases of non-compliance to the Commission. In January of this year CARU's program was the first to be approved as a safe harbor under COPPA.
CARU supports the Commission's proposal to extend the time period for the sliding scale for obtaining parental consent. CARU's own Guidelines, and the Commission's COPPR recognize that flexibility is key and that it is appropriate to consider different methods for obtaining verifiable parental consent depending on the degree of risk to a child posed by the different activities available on the Web.
In adopting the sliding scale the Commission wisely acknowledged that the risks involved where an operator uses a child's personal information solely for its internal use, with no disclosure, were minimal. Although CARU's Guidelines initially required the "more reliable" methods of obtaining parental consent for the collection of offline contact information, our experience working with dozens of Websites has demonstrated that children are not put in harm's way by receiving posters, low-value prizes, samples or other materials through the mail. This is why CARU's efforts have focused on chat room and message board participation, situations that could involve greater risks to a child. And to the extent that there may be situations in which a Website tries in good faith to use e-mail plus to notify a parent and obtain consent but the e-mail plus mechanism fails, as in the off-line world a parent will soon become aware of materials arriving at her home and have the opportunity to object. Accordingly, CARU's Guidelines were revised in 1999 to include the interim use of e-mail plus consistent with the Rule.
Finally, CARU supports the Commission's proposal for a two-year extension of the sliding scale, rather than a longer or indefinite one. One rationale for the sliding scale was to avoid placing the onerous financial burden, particularly on smaller companies, associated with the processing of mailed or faxed consent forms, 800-number telephone calls, credit card authentication or other "more reliable" methods. The two-year window for using e-mail plus was intended to give industry time to develop cost-effective user-friendly digital methods of obtaining consent. There has been some progress in this direction (e.g.: digital signatures, infomediaries) but these solutions are not yet sufficiently user-friendly or widely used. By keeping the extension to a finite period, the Commission will continue to provide an incentive to keep the momentum going to develop alternative verifiable and accessible digital means of obtaining consent which combine ease of use with low cost. This will ultimately help industry and parents ensure that children have access to a range of online activities that truly reflect their parent's choices about activities that are safe and appropriate for their child.
Elizabeth Lascoutx, Esq.