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IAB: FTC’s New Regs Could ‘Steal Christmas’

19 Dec, 2012 By: Doug McPherson

WASHINGTON – A leader with the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) says any new child-based privacy restrictions could “steal Christmas” from children, even after several organizations pressed the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for stronger regulations last week.

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) bans website operators from knowingly collecting personal information from children under 13 without parental consent. The law empowers the FTC to implement regulations and also to define key terms, including website operators and personal information.

The FTC recently proposed updating the COPPA regulations by broadening the definition of personal information to include unique identifiers, including certain types of cookies, device serial numbers and IP addresses.

IAB general counsel Mike Zaneis wrote Friday in a blog post titled, “Don’t Let the FTC Steal Christmas” that recent FTC proposals would “conflate benign data transfers, which present no discernible threat to children’s online safety, with very real concerns about the unauthorized collection of information that might allow strangers to contact our children.”

Zaneis added that the IAB hopes the FTC will not “undermine legitimate commercial practices” that have revolutionized the way kids learn and play in the digital age. “This holiday season, let’s celebrate innovation and technology instead of playing scrooge to American families,” he wrote.

The post included a cartoon image of Santa Claus armed with a sledgehammer marked “New Regs” and is poised to smash a device a little girl – who’s sitting on his lap – is holding. Upset children stand nearby, holding remnants of tablets and smartphones with smashed screens.

MediaPost reports the FTC wants ad networks to avoid collecting data from children – including cookie-based information that’s not linked to names – provided that the networks have reason to know they have a presence on sites directed to kids. The FTC proposes that publishers would be responsible if ad networks and other third parties that gather data don’t comply with COPPA – regardless of whether the publishers themselves collect the information.

If those proposals were enacted, they would effectively ban marketers from using behavioral targeting techniques on children under 13. The proposals also could result in new liability for publishers.

The IAB has been advocating against the proposals, arguing that tracking cookies and other “persistent identifiers” are anonymous and only identify particular devices, not users. IAB also says holding publishers liable when ad networks or app developers violate COPPA would pose “technical challenges to the online ecosystem,” MediaPost reports.

The privacy group Center for Digital Democracy, which is lobbying for tighter COPPA rules, wrote in a blog post about the IAB post: “The desperate cartoon using Santa Claus reveals an inability for the online ad industry to take the privacy issues seriously.”

CDD and other organizations, including the American Heart Association and American Academy of Pediatrics, say new COPPA rules are needed to address recent technological developments.

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