The Federal Trade Commission has changed how it will implement the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) to address children's increased use of apps on smart phones and other handheld devices. (COPPA is the legislation that sets the minimum age of 13 for participation in social networking sites like Facebook.) Kids' apps and websites will have to obtain parental permission before gathering information from children. This information includes photos, videos, geographic location, and online behavior. Many apps makers and websites sell this data to advertisers and marketers. The new rules will go into effect July 1, 2013.
There are a few caveats to the new rules:
- App stores like Apple and Google will not be held responsible for privacy violations by the makers of games and software sold in their stores.
- Software will have to meet child privacy rules only if the makers know that they are collecting information through apps or websites that specifically target children.
Ultimately, parents are responsible for their children. It is our job to teach them about the nature of the Internet, online privacy, and the use of social networks and apps. Just as we teach them how to behave in public (don't point, don't talk to strangers, use your manners), we must teach them how to behave in a virtual world that is a very public place (don't chat with unknown persons, be respectful of others, don't share information you don't want everyone to know about). We must also teach them to think critically about issues like privacy and data collection, making it clear that we pay for free online services with our personal information. As our children enter adulthood, more and more of their lives will be conducted online and through digital media. Our goal should be to prepare them, not to set limits based on their age.