COPPA Comments Underscore What Most Americans Think about Privacy

WASHINGTON D.C. — TechFreedom has filed comments in the most controversial proceeding in the history of the Federal Trade Commission — at least since the late 1970s. Then as now, the FTC has raised public ire by clamping down on advertising to children. Over 850,000 people signed an online petition urging the FTC to reconsider its recent settlement with YouTube, which requires even the smallest independent video creators to start determining whether their content is directed to children. If so, YouTube will sharply restrict functionality for such videos and cease allowing the display of advertising targeted to viewers’ likely interests. These changes are estimated to cost content creators up to 90% of their revenues. Another 175,000+ people filed comments in the FTC’s re-examination of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) Rule, last updated in 2013 — with the vast majority urging the FTC not to choke off the production of free quality video content online. 

The following statement may be attributed to James Dunstan, TechFreedom’s general counsel:

The FTC is clearly doing children’s privacy wrong. COPPA was designed to empower parents — not for the government to decide what children can watch, or to wipe out content enjoyed by adults. Even if well-meaning, the FTC is becoming the de facto NetNanny: its approach will destroy a long tail of content creators that have flourished under the current rules.

Nearly a million people who have told the FTC that they’ll gladly part with a small bit of their privacy in exchange for billions of free videos. The FTC should find a middle ground that doesn’t restrict the rights of adults, encourages the delivery of quality content, while still protecting children from actually being physically contacted. The overriding concern of Congress in enacting COPPA was protecting the safety of children, not restricting advertising. The Commission should revise the COPPA rule to focus on that concern. More urgently, content creators need clarity from the Commission on how to avoid being slapped with huge fines — potentially $42,530 per video.

The Commision also needs to rethink its approach to recordings of children’s voices. Of course, COPPA should cover any collection of personal information by children, including through audio recording. But the Commission has made it almost impossible to do the machine learning on children’s voices needed to develop the kind of automatic speech recognition systems that adults increasingly take for granted. Our paradigm of human-computer interaction is fundamentally changing, and children stand to benefit most. The Commission can protect children and promote innovation by allowing such uses of voice recordings after proper de-identification.


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