Dec. 19, 2012 at 3:30 PM ET
Fourteen years after a children's online privacy law was passed, the Federal Trade Commission Wednesday unveiled a beefed up version that takes into account the realities of youngsters in a world of smartphones, tablets and apps by further restricting the information that can be shared about them.
In its amendments to the Children's Online Privacy Protection, meant to protect children under age 13, the FTC said information like photos, videos and geolocation cannot be collected without parental notice and consent. The commission also plans to "close a loophole that allowed kid-directed apps and websites to permit third parties to collect personal information from children through plug-ins without parental notice and consent."
The amendments to the law, approved in 1998, will go into effect July 1, 2013, the FTC said.
"I am confident that the amendments to the COPPA Rule strike the right balance between protecting innovation that will provide rich and engaging content for children, and ensuring that parents are informed and involved in their children’s online activities," said FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz in a statement.
Among the proposed changes, COPPA would cover "persisitent identifiers that can recognize users over time and across different websites or online services, such as IP addresses and mobile device IDs."
It would also close what the FTC described as a "loophole that allowed kid-directed apps and websites to permit third parties to collect personal information from children through plug-ins without parental notice and consent."
The commission also wants website operators to establish "reasonable procedures for data retention and deletion," and for website operators and website operators and online service providers to take "reasonable steps to release children’s personal information only to companies that are capable of keeping it secure and confidential."
James Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization that monitors the impact of media on children and families, said his group is pleased with the amendments.
"Parents — not social networks or marketers — will remain the gatekeepers when it comes to their children's privacy not only online, but also on phones," he said in an emailed statement.
"These COPPA updates will provide a stern reminder to companies and developers that they need to do more to build a trustworthy online space for kids and families, and ensure that kids can benefit from tech innovation without exploitation."
Not everyone is pleased, though.
"We are pleased to see some moderation on the part of the FTC from the initial proposals earlier this year, but we are concerned that the FTC created too much of a regulatory burden through these expanded rules, and people will simply not create content for kids," said Stephen Balkam, CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute, in a statement. The Washington, D.C.-based group that represents clients including Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Time Warner Cable, Verizon and Yahoo.
"We don’t want to sacrifice the great potential of amazing interactive online tools for marginal improvements in privacy protections," he said.
App developers with small teams — some as small as one — worry about the economic hardship of complying with the amendment, contending legal fees alone to could crush them.
"While we appreciate the efforts of chairman Leibowitz, we are particularly concerned with his expectation that the industry will simply find a solution to the new rules," said Morgan Reed, executive director of the Association for Competitive Technology, in a statement.
"It is akin to jumping off a cliff with the plan to build the parachute on the way down. While that may work for big companies, small companies lack the silk and line to build that parachute before they hit the ground."
This story was updated at 3:30 pm ET Wednesday.