Statement on The Subcommittee on Telecommunications, Trade and Consumer Protection

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Sheila F. Anthony, Former Commissioner

Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, I am delighted to be here this morning as a Federal Trade Commissioner. I appreciate your having this hearing today to address such an important topic. I will speak briefly about children's online privacy.

As the Commission's June, 1998 Report to Congress noted, children represent a large and rapidly growing segment of online consumers. I would guess that the numbers will only increase. Perhaps one of the most frightening facts the Report noted, was how many childrens sites (89% of the 212 sites surveyed) collected personal information from them, but appear not to obtain any kind of parental permission. In the Commission's view these practices raise especially troubling privacy and safety concerns because of the particular vulnerability of children, the immediacy and ease with which information can be collected from them, and the ability of the online medium to circumvent the traditional gatekeeping role of the parent. We are not alone in our concerns. A 1997 Louis Harris & Alan Westin survey showed that 72% of parents whose children use the Internet, object to a Web site's requesting a child's name and address when the child registers at the site, even if such information is used only internally. The Commission's goal is to put parents in control of commercial Web sites' collection of personal information from their children.

The Commission's June report recommended that Congress enact legislation to protect children's online privacy. The Commission's recommended standards would enable parents to make choices about when and how their children's information is collected and used on the Web.

The recommended standards would require commercial Web sites to:

  • Provide for notice and parental consent before personal information is collected from children 12 and under, and
  • Provide parents of children 13 and over with notice and an opportunity to have their children's personal information removed from a Web site's database after it has been collected.

We are encouraged that, in addition to Congressman Tauzin's Data Privacy Act of 1997, Senators Bryan and McCain have just introduced legislation that is fully compatible with our recommendation.