Privacy Protection Rule Amendment
The Magazine Publishers of America (MPA) hereby submits its comments with regard to the October 30, 2001, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking which would amend the Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule to extend to April 21, 2004, the time period during which website operators may use an e-mail message from the parent, coupled with additional steps, to obtain verifiable parent consent for the collection of personal information from children for internal use by the website operator.
MPA is the national trade association of America's consumer magazine industry and it represents many magazines aimed toward children including, Highlights for Children, Time for Kids, and Nickelodeon Magazine. Most of our magazines offer fun and educational companion websites and our members with children-oriented websites have made compliance with the Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) a top priority. We share the Federal Trade Commission's (Commission) commitment to protect children's privacy online.
MPA appreciates the Commission's recognition of the need to extend the current standard for obtaining verifiable parental consent for at least two years. However, for the reasons we explain below, our position is that the current standard should be extended indefinitely. We believe that retaining the current sliding scale standard will protect children while encouraging website operators to invest more resources in developing children's content on the Internet.
We believe that the current system is sufficient to protect children's personal information because most websites that collect and use children's personal information usually do not make this information publicly available. At this time, these websites may use an e-mail based consent mechanism, which effectively protects children's personal information while at the same time allowing sites to provide appropriate educational, recreational, and innovative children's content in a cost effective and timely manner. The current sliding scale approach strikes the appropriate balance between affording parental involvement in children's activities and keeping compliance costs manageable for commercial website operators. We also argued before that other verification methods would cause a delay and break the interactivity link, making the website less functional and causing children to miss out on educational and informative content.
Websites that use the current standard of obtaining verifiable parental consent have made significant investments in their verification systems. If the sliding scale were to sunset in the near future, these sites may be forced to redesign their websites. The temporary nature of the sliding scale may be inhibiting many websites from making investments in costly infrastructure, fearing that a once appropriate means of obtaining consent would no longer be acceptable.
The effect of a sliding scale phase-out could deter innovative interactive opportunities for children and/or reduce the amount of children's content available over the Internet. A permanent extension of the sliding scale would provide a predictable framework around which children's website operators can create children's content. If the Commission were to adopt the sliding scale permanently, these sites may make new investments in children's content.
MPA believes that there will be no negative impact of extending the time period for the sliding scale mechanism for obtaining verifiable parental consent. New technologies have not yet developed to facilitate verifiable parental consent at a reasonable cost, and no widely and economically feasible verification technology even appears to be on the near horizon. Consistent with the statutory mandate, which provides that parental consent must be reasonably calculated in light of available technology to ensure that the person providing the consent is the child's parent, the sliding scale approach affords a readily available and viable means of obtaining consent.
For these reasons, MPA urges that the Commission extend the sliding scale standard indefinitely.