Florida Toughens the Law to Protect Vulnerable Children from Violation of Online Privacy

DigitalIntelligence

Why behavioral ads are bad for children and why we need to improve privacy laws

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Introduction and Context

Online privacy is a global concern. The most prominent work on this issue, GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), was introduced by the EU (European Union), addressing privacy concerns significantly.

In addition, UK has a conduct code called “Age Appropriate Design Code” which is considered ground-breaking. The code is not a new law, but it sets standards and explains how the General Data Protection Regulation applies to children using digital services.

It is crucial in America too. Unfortunately, however, there is no single and central data protection legislation in the US. Instead, there are hundreds of laws at federal and state government levels. While most of the legal focus was on adults, there appears to be a need for the privacy of young people. The current concern is discriminatory and manipulative tactics used by media companies.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) hosted its sixth annual Privacy Conference on July 27, 2021. This event was attended by a diverse group of researchers, academics, industry representatives, consumer advocates, and government regulators. They discussed the latest research and trends related to consumer privacy and data security.

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Related to the purpose of this article, Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA) imposes specific requirements on operators of websites or online services directed to children under 13 years of age and on operators of other websites or online services that have actual knowledge that they are collecting personal information online from a child under 13 years of age.

As pointed out by Dr Jenny Radesky (MD, FAAP) at the American Academy of Pediatrics:

Managing children's relationships with technology has become an increasingly daunting and difficult job for parents. Digital platforms often collect children’s data, target them with personalized advertising based on their behaviors online, and generally fail to prioritize the best interests of young people.
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Screen Capture from PBS Public Website

According to Common Sense Media organization:

Kids do not want targeted ads. Most kids and parents are uncomfortable with the idea that their data is being used for targeted advertising. They do understand how their information is collected, analyzed, and used by commercial actors, and they are largely defenseless against such targeting techniques. Behavioral profiling is particularly problematic for kids because it happens at a unique time of development -- when both their brains and identities are developing and forming. Historically, this is precisely when society has encouraged children to explore new things and not worry about making mistakes”.

Common Sense believes that children and teens should not be tracked and profiled online or subject to behavioral ads based on their personal information or online activity. The organization recommend Congress, the Federal Trade Commission, and individual companies to work toward this goal.

The specific request from Common Sense is to prohibit such practices (as recommended in recent legislation to update the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act), provide additional advertising guidance, and be honest about when kids are using their services and what is best for them.

Florida is one of the most proactive states about reducing the risks of social media for the residents. I introduced the previous law about content moderation in social media in this article titled "Why Florida Government Focused on Content Moderation from a Different Angle". The purpose was to reduce censorship from large digital media companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google. However, the law caused some concerns.

Protecting the Information of Vulnerable Children and Youth Act in Florida

In this post, my purpose is to introduce an update of a bill urging Congress to approve. The bill is called “To amend the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 to update and expand the coverage of such Act, and for other purposes”. Representative Kathy Castor proposes the privacy act (Protecting the Information of our Vulnerable Children and Youth Act.

The purpose of this proposal is to allow parents and the Federal Trade Commission better control for privacy. For example, if this bill is approved, parents and the Commission will be able to sue social media companies that might violate children's and teenagers' privacy.

Let me share important perspectives on this bill provided by the state leaders. The press release describing the bill was published on 28 July 2021 on the government site.

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Representative Kathy Castor (Florida District 14) made informative comments:

“Companies shouldn’t be allowed to track and target children unreasonably. Many companies have been violating the minimal privacy protections in place today as devices and applications have become more sophisticated in targeting kids. The 117th version of the Kids PRIVACY Act builds on COPPA's strengths expands privacy protections for children and teenagers, and incorporates key elements of the UK's Age-Appropriate Design Code. It’s time to strengthen online protections for our youngest neighbors and bring these safeguards into the 21st century.”

Executive Director of Fairplay, Josh Golin, made important remarks. Mr Colin pointed out that by banning surveillance advertising to children and teens, the bill will allow young people to safely use the internet without being exposed to harmful, exploitative data-driven marketing. As Mr Colin highlights, anyone with concerns about how children are treated online should support this important legislation.

Another valuable endorsement of the bill was by Jeff Chester, Executive Director at Center for Digital Democracy, who commented:

“Children and teens will receive strong safeguards to protect their privacy online under this proposed new law. Young people are now subjected to relentless surveillance from marketers, who employ stealthy “Big Data” tactics to track and target kids and adolescents when they use mobile phones, gaming platforms, and social media. Rep. Castor’s “Kids PRIVACY Act” will ensure that regulators keep young people safe, prevent them from being targeted with discriminatory and manipulative tactics, and ensure they are treated fairly in the digital marketplace”

The proposed legislation aims to strengthen privacy protections for children and teenagers in the following eleven points:

  1. Banning Companies from Providing Targeted Advertisements to Children and Teenagers
  2. Considering Best Interests of Children and Teenagers
  3. Requiring Opt-In Consent for all Individuals Under 18
  4. Creating a Right to Access, Correct, and Delete Personal Information
  5. Expands Coverage of Companies
  6. Limiting Disclosure to Third Parties
  7. Requiring Reasonable Data Security Policies, Practices, and Procedures
  8. Prohibiting Industry Self-Regulation
  9. Strengthening FTC Enforcement
  10. Providing for Parental Enforcement
  11. Banning Forced Arbitration

Dr Raddesky believes that this is a much-needed step toward making digital environments safer for young people by updating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act for the 21st Century so children, and now teens too, can have control over their data online just as COPPA intended.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thanks Representative Kathy Castor for her leadership in protecting children’s health and supporting parents.

Here is an informative YouTube video providing insights about privacy law in the US. The event brings ideas from Eric Goldman, Professor of Law & Co-Director of the High Tech Law Institute, Santa Clara University School of Law Terrell McSweeny, Partner, Covington & Burling LLP & Former Commissioner, FTC. The talk was moderated by Alissa Starzak, Head of Policy at Cloudflare.

Conclusions

Privacy is vital for all of us; however, it is even more critical for children and teenagers who are vulnerable to manipulation and exploitation of digital entities.

Millions of children use social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube. They also use online shopping sites to learn and have fun. Those children and teenagers whose privacy is invaded on these platforms suffer debilitating consequences in their lives. Such violations affect their mental health and well-being.

This vital proposal is a timely and wise move. Congratulations, Florida, on leading this crucial protection to children and teenagers in this complex and crazy digital world.

Thank you for reading my perspectives.

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