FTC OKs Self-Regulation to Protect Children's Privacy

Simpson: Blame often gets spread where it shouldn't.

The government recently approved the first self-regulatory guidelines for protecting children's privacy on the Web.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Feb. 1 unanimously granted the first "safe harbor" guidelines to ensure compliance with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, which was passed by Congress in 1998.

The act requires the operators of Web sites geared toward children to post privacy policies on their sites, notify parents about the information they're gathering and obtain parental consent before collecting personal information from children under 13.

The act also provides for the establishment of self-regulatory programs. To set up a safe harbor, businesses and trade groups must propose guidelines to the FTC.

If the guidelines are approved, they're considered "safe" and in compliance with the rule. Web site operators can then use them as models for their own operations.

Evolving Proposal

The guidelines approved by the FTC were proposed by the Arlington, Va.-based Council of Better Business Bureau Inc.'s Children's Advertising Review Unit, a separate arm of the advertising industry's self-regulatory program.

The Children's Advertising Review Unit has been around for almost 30 years. But the organization's guidelines weren't strong enough at first to protect children on the Internet, said Jason Catlett, president of Junkbusters Corp., a Green Brook, N.J.-based privacy advocacy group.

"They revised the proposal, and then we supported it because it seemed to be stronger than what the FTC's rule-making required," Catlett said.

The Center for Media Education (CME), a Washington-based national watchdog group focused on electronic media for children, also expressed reservations about the original Children's Advertising Review Unit proposal to the FTC. But according to CME officials, the group is satisfied with the revisions.

In 1998, the FTC surveyed 212 Web sites directed toward children and found that 46% of them didn't include any disclosure of their collection and use of personal information, despite the fact that 89% of the sites collected one or more types of personal information from children.

Copyright © 2001 IDG Communications, Inc.

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