The Federal Trade Commission on Thursday unanimously approved a policy statement calling for stronger enforcement of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act as it applies to software and devices used by millions of children at school.
The statement does not change the Federal Trade Commission’s policy on the collection of data on children, but rather calls for prioritizing enforcement of the 20-year-old COPPA in relation to educational technology.
Digital privacy and children’s rights advocates have long called for an update to the law, which was last revised in 2012, to better reflect data collection practices with modern technology. The push has intensified during the pandemic as many children have been forced to switch to virtual learning, dramatically increasing the amount of time they spend online and the amount of personal information collected during schoolwork.
FTC Chairwoman Lina Hahn says the filing emphasizes that children have a right to an education without having to be “surveillance” by tech companies. She added that there are early signs that some education technology companies may be collecting far more data than they need to, creating the risk that some students could be targeted and targeted if that data is ever exposed in a breach.
Under COPPA, companies are prohibited from collecting children’s data without their parents’ consent, but they must provide children with access to educational technology even if parents or schools reject the companies’ request to collect certain information.
Companies also cannot use data collected about children for commercial purposes, such as marketing or advertising. Any data stored must be properly protected against potential theft, and companies are not allowed to retain children’s data for longer than necessary.
Some commissioners said the FTC should do more to protect children’s privacy by strengthening its own rules. The FTC’s review of the COPPA rule has been ongoing since 2019.
Commissioner Christine Wilson said if the announcement prompts some companies to voluntarily review and revise their practices, that’s great. But she said she was concerned that it could create the illusion that the FTC was taking action.
“Hopefully, we will move on to the important task of completing the regulatory review,” she said, adding that she urged the FTC to “prioritize and get it done quickly.”