The Internet is a vast expanse of information–some of it helpful and some of it harmful, especially to children. For that reason, parents often go to extreme measures to protect their children from exposure to certain elements of the web that are better left to mature audiences. However, new online safety regulations issued by the Federal Trade Commission have many web developers and service providers up in arms over just how far is too far to go in the name of protection. Are online child safety rules a help or hassle? That depends on who you ask.
FTC imposes Strict New Child Protection Regulations.
In July of 2013, the Federal Trade Commission issued some new regulations that imposed some serious restrictions on websites that cater specifically to children. Websites are no longer able to collect “personal information” from children without first obtaining and verifying consent from a parent. Additionally, websites that allow third-party providers to present ads for services, apps, plugins, and programs to children will now be held responsible for the information those providers collect from users who indicate they are younger than 13 years old.
What is “personal information?”
Generally speaking, personal information gathered on the web may be anything from an email address to a username and password. However, at a recent gathering of Internet company representatives and data experts, a privacy attorney by the name of Lydia Parnes spoke out on the problem with the new FTC regulations: There is no clear definition of “personal information” to go by. Parnes, a former FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection director, pointed out that the FTC’s definition of personal information is so “broad” that it allows for differences in interpretation, which can lead to unnecessary fines and court battles.
Who is Paying the Price?
It is estimated that the cost of compliance with these new regulations will be about $6,000 annually to $19,000 (for established services and setting up new services, respectively). While big-name web entities shouldn’t have a hard time footing the bill to allow children to continue to access Facebook and Twitter, the fact is that up to ninety percent of web service providers for children are small businesses that are already spread then. Web startups that want to cater to children will be especially burdened by the heavy price of compliance.
While it is easy to see why many web-based service providers are objecting to the new FTC child protection measures, it is also understandable that many parents stand behind the movement to better safeguard their children’s information. When it comes down to it, the web can be a dangerous place for children, and the more parents are involved, the safer web browsing will be for the younger crowd.
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