November 30, 2001
By Electronic Mail
Re: Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule Amendment - Comment, P994504
Dear Mr. Secretary:
Gardner Carton & Douglas is pleased to submit these comments to the Federal Trade Commission concerning the proposed amendment to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule. The Commission has requested comments on extending the sliding scale mechanism for obtaining verifiable parental consent for two years, until April 21, 2004. The amendment would extend the time period for companies to collect, through the "e-mail plus" mechanism, parental consent for information collected from children and used for internal purposes.
Gardner Carton & Douglas is a large, full-service law firm with offices in Chicago and Washington, DC. Nationally recognized for its depth of experience in information technology law, our firm has long been on the leading edge of privacy and security issues. The firm enjoys a national reputation in privacy, intellectual property, advertising, antitrust, communications, corporate and securities, employee benefits, environmental, healthcare, litigation and tax practice. Many of our clients operate web sites directed at children, and are thus directly affected by COPPA.
Though secure electronic mechanisms and infomediary services to facilitate verifiable consent may be available, they are not well known or widely used. The feasibility of these technologies and services are thus difficult to gauge. We fear, however, that a study of the full costs cannot be conducted until the technologies and services are in wide use, and it is difficult to determine whether that can occur by April 2004. However, we recognize the danger in reaching a goal when no deadline has been implemented, and for this reason commend the FTC for suggesting a limited, two-year extension of the "e-mail plus" mechanism for collecting verifiable parental consent. It is our hope that significant progress in digital signature technology and the emergence of infomediary services that assist companies in the collection of verifiable consent will be widely available by that time.
The Commission has asked whether the proposed amendment will cause significant risks to children. We do not believe such risks exist. In our experience, offline methods of consent often provide no added guarantee that the consent comes from the parent, and not the child. For example, despite best efforts to ensure that consent is from adults, many children have mastered their parents' signatures. Additionally, without an existing parental signature on file, companies are unable to verify whether the signature is in fact that of the parent. Moreover, most sites that have implemented some mechanism for collecting consent have also spent much time and effort ensuring that their web sites comply with all other aspects of COPPA, including protecting the children's information once it has been collected. Finally, under the Rule, sites that collect parental consent by the "e-mail plus" mechanism may not share that information with third parties. As such, extending the time period appears to present little negative impact. Indeed, the true risk to children stems from sites that have made no efforts to comply with COPPA or other industry standards such as the CARU guidelines for advertising responsibly to children.
For the foregoing reasons, Gardner Carton & Douglas recommends that the Commission extend its current deadline, and allow web sites to collect verifiable parental consent through e-mail plus mechanisms past the April 2002 deadline.
Thank you for your consideration.
Liisa M. Thomas