The Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) recently joined top YouTube creators, FTC Commissioner Noah Philips, and privacy experts from Google, the Georgetown Institute for Public Representation, and others on Capitol Hill for TechFreedom’s event, Will Kids’ Privacy Break the Internet? The COPPA Rule. FPF Director of Youth & Education Privacy Amelia Vance participated in an expert panel discussion about the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) ongoing review of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
The event focused on the controversy surrounding the FTC’s September 2019 settlement with YouTube over COPPA, and YouTube’s response in November announcing changes regarding “child-directed” content. To help dispel some of the resulting confusion among creators that has followed, FPF published a “mythbusters” blog post addressing common misperceptions, including that creators could “stop COPPA” by filing comments with the FTC. The FTC received more than 175,000 comments – including from FPF – as a part of the agency’s ongoing review of COPPA. FPF’s comments urged the FTC to modernize COPPA in three key areas: policies related to voice-enabled technologies, guidance on COPPA’s “actual knowledge” definition, and greater alignment with the primary federal student privacy law, FERPA.
As YouTube content creators face this new uncertainty, Vance emphasized the importance of keeping the conversation focused on the facts, and potential solutions. “I think the key here is to provide as much insight about what laws creators, in particular, have to follow,” Vance said. “We should be talking about how to make it more practical for the people who have to actually implement these new provisions.” However, she noted that, at the end of the day, child privacy in the U.S. may be “out of the FTC’s hands,” since rulemaking will take a significant amount of time and both Congress and state legislatures have indicated that they are eager to legislate on child privacy.
Vance, who spoke at the FTC’s COPPA workshops both in late 2019 and in 2017, reminded the audience that a lot has changed since the FTC’s last review of COPPA in 2013. Europe and California have both passed significant new consumer privacy laws with child privacy protections, and some European countries are considering even higher protections for children. Additionally, two new federal proposals call for extending the age of COPPA protections to 16, and one of those bills also includes an update of COPPA’s “actual knowledge” definition, a key enforcement mechanism.
Additionally, Vance cautioned against legislators or regulators expanding child privacy through “opt-in” parental consent, citing the example of students in Louisiana who, under a strict opt-in regime, missed out on the state’s scholarship program because they couldn’t get parental sign off.
“It’s really important to remember that there are unintended consequences here,” Vance noted. “Where we’re going with privacy protections is an underlying framework of protections that would apply across the board, and not protections that parents have to consent to. Exactly what the boundaries of that…remains to be seen.”