By Daniel Gaitan
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A bipartisan effort aiming to help protect the privacy of children and young teenagers online is making its way through Congress.
The Do Not Track Kids Act of 2013, introduced in both the House and Senate in November, would amend the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) of 1998, and apply prohibitions against the collection of personal information from children and young teens to online and mobile applications. It would also establish additional protections against the collection of geo-location information.
“Children and teens are visiting numerous companies' websites, and marketers are using multimedia games, online quizzes, and mobile phone and tablet applications to create ties to children and teens,” the bill reads.
The legislation defines youngsters under 16 as minors. If passed, the bill would prohibit website and mobile application operators from using or providing the personal information of children and young teens to third parties without verifiable consent from a parent, or from the minor if he or she is between 13 and 15.
It would also prohibit website and mobile application operators from compiling information for targeted marketing purposes without consent.
Children and minors would also be ensured the option to delete personal content they post online when technologically feasible, an "eraser button," among other protections.
The bill was introduced by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Joe Barton, R-Tex.
“Sen. Markey is very committed to moving it forward, and he is continuing to gather co-sponsors on the Senate side,” said Giselle Barry, spokesperson for Markey. “It updates COPPA for the 21st century.”
The Senate version of the bill was referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and the House version to the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. (The Senate version is here: http://1.usa.gov/Sh467R; the House version is here: http://1.usa.gov/1lGWQMP.) So far, 33 representatives and two senators have co-sponsored the legislation.
“Many parents are unaware that their kids’ Internet activities are being monitored by websites and sold to advertisers,” said Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., in a press release in support of the bill. “Our common-sense, bipartisan bill is about returning privacy to children and giving parents a tool to control the information gathered about their children online.”
In a statement, Sean Brown, communications director for Barton, said the bill is one of Barton’s top priorities. “He is having meetings with members on both sides of the aisle as well as leadership on the Energy and Commerce Committee in an effort to get a hearing and a vote. So far no timetable has been set, but Mr. Barton will continue to push for this very important legislation,” Brown said.
According to a 2012 report from Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, 81 percent of parents of online teens said they were concerned about how much information advertisers could learn about their child's online behavior; 69 percent said they worried about the impact of their child's online activity on their future academic and job prospects. (The report is available here: http://pewrsr.ch/1m9yBcA). Findings from the report were included in the bill.
“This bill would be a major step forward for kids, teens and families across the country. Period,” said Jim Steyer, founder and C.E.O. of Common Sense Media, a non-profit focusing on the effects of media and technology. “The ‘eraser button’ would give kids and teens the right to erase stuff that’s inappropriate. Young people often times self-reveal before they self-reflect.”
(This story has been refiled to correct changes of Mark Kirk’s party affiliation, in paragraph 10)