|July 29, 1999
Secretary of the Federal Trade Commission
The administrative record requires the FTC to adopt the strictest rule possible requiring verifiable parental consent in order to protect children's privacy online. Specifically, this means that e-mail, in the current environment, is not a means for obtaining verifiable consent.
Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) recognizes that collecting data from kids is a special privilege. Any company that wants to enjoy that privilege must shoulder the burden of going "offline" to obtain verifiable parental consent. If a company does not want to shoulder this burden, it can still offer a website for kids--but one that doesn't collect data from them.
"Industry's" claim that there will be educational value in commercially run websites for kids should be trusted with skepticism. One only need examine commercial television for children to see that there is little educational value, but it does play a role in provoking young children to pester their parents to buy over-priced toys. Especially laughable is the notion that MTV, a channel filled with suggestive and derogatory images and messages, has anything positive to offer children under 13.
The real issue is money. I am therefore attaching a recent Privacy Times article http://www.privacytimes.com/ about the multi-million dollar industry that traffics data on high school kids. Some of these data are used by scam artists. This article should drive home two points (1) If there is an opportunity to make money off of kids data, they will seek to exploit that opportunity; and (2) We will never adequately protect privacy through a sectoral or segregated approach. Instead, a comprehensive approach is necessary.
That is why it was so disappointing that the FTC failed to recommend a comprehensive approach in its recent report to Congress. With the exception of Commissioner Anthony, the FTC sent the message that 10% compliance with traditional Fair Information Standards was "sufficient progress." This was a great disservice to the American people. It was inconsistent with the fine work on privacy done by the FTC, and, as Congressman Ed Markey said, completely at-odds with the FTC's tradition.
At the hearing, Consumer Protection Chief Jodie Bernstein asked me to put in writing my "baseball analysis" of the FTC's progress on privacy.
Commissioner Anthony, on the other hand, came through in the clutch, and went straight to the major league ALL-STAR game in her Rookie year!
If there is one thing that is required of both a baseball fan (especially a San Francisco Giants fan) and a privacy advocate, it is patience. Despite the recent disappointment, I still harbor hopes that the FTC will make it to the Majors.