Prepared Statement for the Dec. 14 Congressional Privacy Caucus

Prepared Statement of:
Alan Simpson
Vice President of Policy
Common Sense Media

Congressional Privacy Caucus
Briefing on Children’s Privacy
December 14, 2011


As the leaders of the Congressional Privacy Caucus have discussed, and as Common Sense Media has found in our recent surveys, parents are increasingly concerned about protecting kids’ and teen’s privacy and personal information in the rapidly changing online world. 

As an organization dedicated to helping kids and families thrive in a world of media and technology, Common Sense Media greatly appreciates this discussion, and the opportunity to highlight crucial steps that can be taken to update privacy policies and practices for the 21st century, that will allow our children to thrive in a 24/7 media culture.

Obviously, parents play the foremost role in protecting children and teaching them to protect themselves, but all of us – industry, advocates, educators, and policymakers – have a role to play.   All of us need to contribute to a comprehensive effort to build new common sense solutions for protecting kids’ privacy in a digital world.  Several solutions are both obvious and necessary:

  • The industry standard for privacy should be OPT-IN – especially for kids and teens.  While we’re starting to see a few companies moving in the right direction, their movements often seem to stem from pressure from policymakers.  That’s not industry leadership, and it’s not the industry setting a standard. 

OPT IN means companies get express consent before they collect, use or share users’ information.  For younger kids, COPPA requires that companies get consent from parents. Common Sense is looking forward to the COPPA rule revisions and is planning on filing comments. For teens, companies should get opt-in consent from the teens themselves. 

  • Online companies and social networks should create solutions like an “eraser button” to enable kids and teens to delete their personal information.  Facebook’s recent FTC settlement required Facebook to take steps to prevent third parties from accessing content after users deleted or terminated their accounts. This shows that “Eraser button” solutions are technically feasible.

    Common Sense appreciates that many things posted online can never be removed, and that’s why our Digital Literacy and Citizenship curriculum teaches kids and teens to be careful about what they post. But anyone who understands child development also appreciates that 1) kids and teens love to post personal information on sites, social networks and messaging platforms; and 2) children make mistakes. When kids or teens decide they no longer want their personal information on a site or network, they should be able to permanently delete their information, at least from that site or network. Further, both the FTC and Facebook recognized the important privacy value in giving substance to users’ wishes to control their personal information on that service.

  • There should be limits on the use, sale or transfer personal information of kids and teens for the purpose of behavioral or targeted marketing.  A Digital Marketing Bill of Rights, with enforcement by the FTC, can help to protect teens and kids.  
  • Finally, privacy policies should be clear, simple and transparent.  Legal documents longer than the U.S. Constitution may help companies protect themselves, but they don’t help users – especially kids – make smart choices.  All online companies – including sites, social networks, and apps – should have clear, simple and standardized summaries of their privacy policies, so that kids and parents can get the information they need to make smart choices about whether and how to share their personal information.

Many of us would probably agree that tech companies and innovators are best positioned to build solutions like these, and to help parents and kids make smart choices about protecting their privacy and personal information in the digital world.  Yet while tech innovation over the past decade has been truly amazing, we have seen far too few innovations geared toward providing better solutions for kids and families.

Advocates and policymakers have called on industry to “innovate to protect” for several years.  We’ve waited a long time for industry leaders to set standards, and to take the lead. While the proposed updates from the Federal Trade Commission are an important step for younger kids, adolescents still need protection, and H.R. 1895, “The Do Not Track Kids Act” proposed by Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) would provide a strong baseline. H.R. 1895 foresaw many of the changes that FTC proposed in its COPPA NPRM, but also provides important new protections for adolescents. Since the industry seems unwilling or unable to act, leadership must come from Congress, and it should start with H.R. 1895.