Parents with children who use the internet will be relieved to know that the Federal Trade Commission is rolling out new rules to better protect children’s online privacy.
The rules require mobile apps and websites to obtain parental consent before collecting personal information from children, the Los Angeles Times is reporting.
With the growing use of children under 13 using mobile devices, FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz said Wednesday that the agency was trying to move as quickly as possible because tactics and tracking tools that marketers are using to collect data are becoming highly advanced, making protecting children more and more imperative.
At the same time, the FTC wants to strike a balance between protecting children online and ensuring that businesses that have developed apps continue to profit, he said during a Capitol Hill news conference.
The new rules are the first major update to federal laws on children's online privacy in 14 years, when the Children Children's Online Privacy Protection Act was enacted to require online services for children under 13 to get parental consent before collecting basic information like names, email and home addresses. Advocates say it was time for an update, given the vast technological advancements over the past decade.
The new rules mandate that a parent's consent is required for marketers to collect personal details that can be used to identify, locate, or contact a child and pass that information on to third parties. The FTC began reviewing the law in 2010.
Companies must also get permission from parents before collecting photographs and videos as well as deploying tracking tools, such as cookies, which use IP addresses and mobile device IDs to follow a child on the Web, the LA Times reports.
Leibowitz said violators of the rules will be subject to fines as high as $16,000 per incident.
The FTC decided that companies like Apple’s iTunes and Google Play with apps would be liable only when they have “actual knowledge” that their partner sites are collecting information about children, the Washington Post reports.
The proposed changes come a week after the FTC said it was investigating mobile app developers who might have gathered children’s information. The agency offered no details concerning the investigation.
"We are at a critical moment in the growth of the children's digital marketplace as social networks, mobile phones and gaming platforms become an increasingly powerful presence in the lives of young people," Kathryn Montgomery, a children's advocate and a professor of communications at American University, told the LA Times. "The new rules should help ensure that companies targeting children throughout the rapidly expanding digital media landscape will be required to engage in fair marketing and data collection practices."
James Steyer, chief executive of Common Sense Media Inc., a nonprofit group in San Francisco that studies kids' use of technology, considers the move a victory putting parents — not corporations — back in charge as gatekeepers for kids.
"All of the companies and developers in the online and mobile space benefit from the share and use of personal information. But they also have a responsibility for providing parents with information and tools so they can make smart choices about what their young children do and share online, and so far, most of these companies have failed to live up to that responsibility," Steyer said.
Though many feel the protecting children’s privacy is important, some app developers warned that the new regulations could deter them from building apps, given the new liabilities. The Application Developers Alliance said the kids' software industry is mostly made up of entrepreneurs who can't afford lawyers.
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