U.S. expands online child privacy laws, but glaring loopholes remain

Federal regulators have recently made some progress with regard to protecting the privacy of minors online by adding language specific to applications and social networks – to a certain extent. However, perhaps the amendments made to the Children's Online Privacy Act (COPPA) of 1998 should not be seen as a sweeping victory for parents everywhere, but as an indication of how much farther we still have to go.

For starters, the new rules, which don't go into effect until July of 2013, only apply to children under the age of 13. This is likely of little consolation to the parents of a 15-year-old boy or girl growing up in a world where their entire lives are being documented on the internet.

Furthermore, while the new regulations handed down by the Federal Trade Commission will require websites and applications geared toward children to obtain permission from parents before gathering data on their kids, it does not hold app stores accountable.

Without putting any responsibility on the likes of Apple and Google to ensure content in their online stores adhere to such privacy protections, it is that much easier for laws like COPPA to be circumvented.

It doesn't stop there, unfortunately. The updated rules only require so-called software add-ons, seen on millions of websites, such as the Facebook "Like" button, to adhere to child online privacy protections if their developers have actual knowledge that the site or app is targeting children, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Online privacy is a serious issue that many adults, let alone children, don't bother to try to understand. Regulators may have changed the rules but, considering the glaring loopholes that remain, one would be hard-pressed to categorize them as significant upgrades.

Whether you are a stay-at-home parent or a Fortune 500 CEO, protecting online privacy for yourself and your children can't be an "if-I-get-around-to-it" kind of thing. It has to be a priority that we are vigilant about and that makes us demand more than small steps in the right direction.

John Sileo is an online privacy expert and keynote speaker on social media privacy, identity theft and fraud. His clients included the Department of Defense, Pfizer, and Homeland Security. See his recent work on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business.


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