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Mobile Device Use by Children Prompts Review of COPPA Rules

The rapidly expanding use by children of mobile devices for social networking and interactive gaming has prompted the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to propose changes to its Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule.

 The FTC seeks to expand the definition of “personal information” to include screen [names], user names, and persistent identifiers when the information is used for other than “internal operations of the website or online services.”  The rule would expand the definition to include the posting of video and audio files containing a child’s image or voice, all of which the FTC says can lead to the identification of children.

The FTC also proposes to include geolocation information as falling under the rule because it can give a specific location for a child that “in some instances may be more precise than street name and name of city or town.”  The FTC proposes to expand the definition of “disclosure” to include making information “publicly available in identifiable form by any means, including but not limited to a public posting through the Internet, or through a personal home page or screen posted on a website or online service; a pen pal service; an electronic mail service; a message board; or a chat room.”

The FTC is the agency charged with establishing rules implementing the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which generally prohibits websites from collecting personally identifiable information from children under the age of 13 without parental consent.  The FTC notes that, since COPPA became effective in April, 2000, there has been “an explosion in children’s use of mobile devices, the proliferation of online social networking and interactive gaming.”

Comments on the rule may be submitted to the FTC until November 28, 2011.