Coping with Technology Is Easier When We Work with Common Sense


Young child on computer

Like so many families these days, we are all connected via technology. Whether you think it is a good idea to give a six year old an iPhone, tablet, or laptop, will soon become an argument you simply cannot win. When our youngest children are given toys that mimic more realistic products, you know the battle is already over.

That’s why the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is the single most important piece of regulation when it comes to protecting our children’s privacy, both as they surf the world wide web or click an app on a smart phone.

As Taryn Degnan of Common Sense Media and I have discussed in past conversations, it isn’t that parents don’t want their children to have access to either informative websites that can enhance their academic endeavors or fun games or videos that they can enjoy in their (limited of course) leisure time, it’s that, as their recent survey reveals, parents overwhelmingly want to be able to decide what, and when, data is collected from their children.

Not clear on what COPPA is and how it connects with you? Thankfully the team at Common Sense Media has created this infographic to help all of us not only better understand the basic principles of the law, but what the proposed key changes in the rules would mean for consumers:

COPPA infographic

Parents often don’t want to be seen as inflexible in regard to what content their children have access to, but according to the survey results, the majority of respondents (90%) express support for COPPA’s basic requirement that online companies seeking to collect personal information from children have to obtain permission from their parents first.

In addition, 91% of both parents (and adults in general) don’t believe that advertisers should be collecting information about a child’s location from their mobile phone and 94% of parents (and 91% of adults) agree that advertisers should receive the parent’s permission before putting tracking software on a child’s computer.

Congress passed COPPA in 1998 with bipartisan support, establishing a law that created a set of safeguards for website operators targeting children under 13, and ensuring that parents would play a key decision-making role in determining whether and how their children’s personal information would be used in the online environment. As we know, social media is constantly in flux, privacy rules are continually changing (mostly without our knowledge or notification), and as adults we can simply choose to opt out if we don’t want to opt in.

And even as we might be hovering over our child’s shoulder as they enter a website to play a game or do research, we can’t be there (literally or figuratively) the entire time they are navigating the web. While older children may know better than to click a link, or enter personal data, far too often they provide the website with far too much access to their lives, thinking it is safe because all their friends are using that website as well.

The Federal Trade Commission has proposed changes to the current COPPA rules, but has yet to release revised regulations. All of us can agree that the Internet can be a great opportunity to connect with resources and a larger global community, but not at the expense of our children’s right to privacy.

Common Sense Media is working to help parents connect with what is at risk when the regulations are not updated and implemented. As James P. Steyer stated in a recent press release, “The FTC’s recommended updates to COPPA represent the most important regulation of the past 10 years when it comes to protecting our kids’ privacy. They will ensure that parents have better information and tools, and that parents — not third party ad networks and data brokers — get to decide when their children’s personal information can — and can’t — be collected, shared, and sold.”

It isn’t about censorship or preventing access to information, it’s about navigating the journey in a respectful and responsible way. It’s about agreeing that as the Internet landscape changes we need to keep our map current, and we need to work together so that our children reach their destination safely, and that all of us understand while we can’t hold their hand every step of the way, we can make sure that strangers aren’t holding their hands either.

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