Donald S. Clark
The American Psychological Association (APA), respectfully submits these comments in response to the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) proposed rule implementing the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to Implement the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, and Proposed Rule, 64 Fed. Reg. 80 (April 27, 1999).
The APA, the world's largest psychological organization with over 159,000 members and affiliates, has a long history of research and advocacy concerning the interactions between children and the media. For the past several years, the APA has encouraged the Federal Trade Commission and other government agencies to develop safeguards to protect children in today's electronic age. The American Psychological Association looks forward to the process of developing rules to effectively protect children online as a part of developing healthy interactive media habits.
The APA is particularly concerned about Web sites that collect personal information from children under age 13 without obtaining prior parental consent. Children under the age of 13 do not have the developmental capacity to understand the nature of the request for information that is being made by a web site and may, unknowingly, pass along information not intended for distribution or collection by their parents.
In COPPA, there are exceptions to the rule for needing prior parental consent (e.g., not required for a one time specific request, a subscription request, to get information about the parent in order to obtain their consent, etc). These exceptions to the requirement for prior parental consent provide ample opportunity for Web sites to operate within the necessary limits needed for a child's privacy.
A significant question that is posed before the Commission is how to obtain "verifiable" parental consent. In his floor statement, COPPA sponsor Senator Bryan suggests that two methods would meet the standard of 'reasonable effort' considering the current state of technology - written parental consent and digital signatures.
The American Psychological Association is also concerned with how parental consent is obtained. Children under the age of 13 are too young to understand the implications of sharing personal information and therefore need parental involvement to make informed decisions. Parents must be involved in the decision whether or not to disclose their child's personal information. Consequently, the methods of obtaining parental consent must meet a high standard as determined by the Federal Trade Commission.
Given the nature and availability of anonymous email accounts, the dual use of children and their parents of one email account, and the potential for a child under 13 to not comprehend the implications of giving consent, parental consent options other than email must be considered at this time. Email alone is not verifiable.
By requiring written parental consent, web sites would no longer have the ability to collect personal information from children without engaging in a more secure process of gaining parental approval. As gaining prior written consent is a timely process, this may also serve as a catalyst for developing secure, affordable technology using digital signatures.
Any inconveniences that might exist now are temporary, based on the rapid development of the technology. Until that technology is further developed, children have the opportunity to go online and interact, learn, play, and be entertained by the many other Web site providers who choose not to collect personal information.
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