Center for American Progress Panelists Explore FTC’s Role in Child Privacy Protection

WASHINGTON, June 28, 2011 – A Center for American Progress panel assembled Monday explored the challenges presented by emerging Internet technology privacy issues with respect to Federal Trade Commission enforcement, child safety and free speech rights.

Julie Brill, FTC Commissioner, addressed private sector and government solutions for protecting consumer data privacy in her keynote speech to a packed house of policy analysts, advocacy groups and government officials at the Center’s Washington, D.C. headquarters.

“It is not reasonable to expect consumers to read and understand privacy codes as long as the Code of Hammurabi,” said Brill, in reference to the ancient Babylonian law code – the origin of the saying, ‘eye for an eye’.

Brill emphasized, in addition to companies putting privacy policies in plain English, that companies should be upfront with consumers regarding the kinds of personal data they collect and how long they keep it.  Companies should also build privacy and security into new products – not just retrofit old products – according to the commissioner.

The morning’s discussion, however, centered around the thoughts of the commissioner and the panel who followed after her on how to best protect the privacy rights of children through several methods: an updated version of the ‘Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998’ (COPPA), a federal online privacy law enforced by the FTC. The panel also delved into private sector development of technology that would allow consumers to opt-out of company data collection and location tracking, also known as a ‘do not track mechanism.’

The proposed mechanism would take two possible forms: consumer subscription lists that would allow a user’s browser to block sites engaged in tracking, and browsers that would require websites to refrain from tracking its users behavior at the request of the user.

Due to the recent major data breaches at Sony, Epsilon, Lockheed Martin, and the U.S. Senate by hacktivist groups Lulz Security (LulzSec) and Anonymous, companies and legislators are now confronted with the high stakes of data privacy at play.

Jim Steyer, Founder and CEO of Common Sense Media, whose company is a child and family media advocacy group, exhorted the group to consider an angle outside of the current privacy debate in Washington when discussing data privacy policy reform.

Steyer, in addition to stating that there should be no tracking of children whatsoever, proposed the creation of an eraser button. The eraser button would allow children and their parents to delete content posted about them online. The mechanism would, however, only be one defense against the negative ramifications lack of privacy inflicts on childhood development.

“We need to look at how these issues affect the cognitive, social and emotional development of children and teens,” said Steyer.

“Very few people disagree with empowering parents [about their children’s privacy],” said Chris Wolf, Co-Director of Future of Privacy Forum, in response to Steyer. Wolf, a lawyer, refocused the discussion on the stakes everyone has in data privacy.

“Companies are beginning to recognize that privacy is good for business.”

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