When people find out I work for Common Sense Media, they gush about how much they love our movie reviews, how our video game reviews saved them, or how our learning ratings changed their minds about apps. "Making a difference in families' lives is just what we do," I might say humbly.
And then, knowing my tendency toward policy wonkishness, I'll ruin the moment with an offhand question like, "So how do you feel about COPPA?" There might be a flicker of recognition followed by, "Oh you mean that Italian ham?" Um, no.
COPPA -- the Children's Online Privacy and Protection Act -- might not be as exciting as Frankenweenie (nor as delicious as cured ham!). But it's one of the most important consumer protections ever passed for kids in the Internet age. The law gives parents the right to decide whether companies can collect their kids' information -- and right now it's facing a crucial test. The Federal Trade Commission is trying to upgrade COPPA to keep pace with new technology like third-party advertising networks, online data tracking, and location services. The FTC needs to hear from parents how important it is for us to remain the gatekeepers of our kids' information.
In a world where kids' lives are increasingly lived online -- where they play games, interact with friends, buy products, and search for information -- their digital interactions represent millions (maybe billions) of dollars for online companies. COPPA is the one thing standing in the way of companies getting their hands on your kids' data -- and the changes made to the law now will affect your kids' personal information forever.
Why COPPA Needs an Upgrade
If you've ever had to give your email address when your kid wanted to register for a website, that's COPPA in action. The law mandates that companies get parents' permission before they collect personal information on kids under 13. But COPPA, passed in 1998, was conceived in a pre-Facebook, pre-YouTube, pre-app, pre-geolocation world. In today's information economy, it's data -- what you knowingly give companies when you sign up for a service, as well as the digital footprints you leave behind as you click around the Web -- that companies want to buy and sell.
Keep Parents in Charge
You can bet that Internet companies are fighting the proposed COPPA changes tooth and nail. In fact, Facebook wrote a 20-page-page appeal to the FTC defending its "Like" button against COPPA regulations. No one is saying that companies don't have a right to innovate and make money online. The FTC's recommended rules will simply help ensure that parents have better information and tools, and that parents -- not ad networks and data brokers -- get to decide when their children's personal information can -- and can't -- be collected, shared, and sold.
Sign! Sign Now!
Online companies working with parents is an essential component of building consumer trust, and building innovations that work -- for kids and families and for online and mobile companies and developers.
If you believe that, too, then it’s time to make sure your voice is heard. Sign the petition to protect your right to decide how your kids' information is shared online. And at the risk of coming off like a policy wonk (like me), send it to your friends, and help them stay in charge of their kids' information. Access to all of this great technology shouldn't come at kids' expense.