Newswise — Thanks to ubiquitous usage of smartphones and other computing devices, children are using applications more than ever. Now, there are concerns whether companies that make apps – or perhaps even social-networking entities – are violating federal privacy laws. The Federal Trade Commission is investigating what information is being collected about children without parental consent.
Tracy Mitrano is Cornell’s director of IT Policy and Institute for Computer Policy and Law. She has a faculty appointment at Cornell’s Department of Computing Information Science, where she teaches "Culture, Law and Politics of the Internet."
"The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has recently brought attention to the problem of children's privacy rights under the Child On-Line Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) of 1998. Under that law, children must have the permission of their parents before disclosing personally identifiable information to any on-line business, marketer or individual. Originally this concern stemmed from child predator cases, and while that concern still exists, it has begun to shift to marketers or businesses that seek such information in order to target advertising, anticipate trends and to create life-long profiles on the buying and spending habits of people from an early age.
"'Apps’ or the online applications for games, entertainment and social networking, have newly brought this concern into greater focus. Not only do studies demonstrate that only a small percentage of children under the age of 13 who download these apps obtain the requisite permission from parents, but that the companies sponsoring the apps neither inform the user of the necessity to do so, nor are transparent about the information they collect in the process of both the download and then the activities of the user.
“These activities increasingly include tracking of Internet activity and physical location of the individual. Not only under COPPA is this failure to provide notice and obtain permissions a violation of the law, but the concern returns full circle to original intent of the law, which was personal and physical safety.
"The FTC is making public the alarming statistics of these studies to raise awareness among the public to this issue in order to bring pressure on Internet companies, such as Google and Facebook among many others, to come to a reasonable agreement as how technologically and socially to address this problem.
“The fear on the part of the Internet industries would be that unaddressed by either agreements with the FTC or among trade associations, the Obama Administration would bring the issue to Congress to strengthen legislation in this area. At its core, however, this issue underscores the importance of public understanding about how technology, the market and user behavior shape public expectations of privacy, and how together with the law these factors may be worked in tandem for youth in particular and for the public good overall."