Better Approaches are Available to Protect Children Online
WASHINGTON D.C. - Legislative proposals to expand the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act are highly misguided, explain Berin Szoka and Adam Thierer in "COPPA 2.0: The New Battle Over Privacy, Age Verification, Online Safety & Free Speech," released today by The Progress & Freedom Foundation. Expanding age verification mandates would require all users to surrender privacy and speech rights while doing little to improve the online safety of minors.
In the paper, PFF Fellows Szoka and Thierer argue that proposed state laws to expand the parental consent framework in the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) to include adolescents between 13 and 17 would essentially require age verification of all users of affected sites, including large numbers of adults. This would violate the First Amendment rights of adults as well as of minors and site operators. Attempts to enact such proposals at the state level would also conflict with the Commerce Clause because of the interstate nature of the Internet.
Furthermore, in light of widespread "social networking" found in most Web 2.0 websites today, expansion of parental consent requirements would be unworkable because of the increased hassles and costs of compliance. Expanding age verification mandates would also require websites to obtain more information about both minors and their parents, which runs counter to the original goal of the Act: protecting the privacy of minors. Ultimately, this would actually make minors less "safe online." "It's important we not overlook the privacy implications of any effort to expand COPPA to do something it was not originally intended to do," the authors conclude. "There are better ways to protect our kids online."
"COPPA 2.0: The New Battle Over Privacy, Age Verification, Online Safety & Free Speech," is available on the PFF website. PFF also produces a book, "Parental Controls and Online Protection: A Survey of Tools and Methods," which offers parents and policymakers a comprehensive inventory of the many excellent tools and strategies that can be used to protect kids online.
The Progress & Freedom Foundation is a market-oriented think tank that studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. It is a 501(c)(3) research & educational organization.