DMA: Markey-Barton ‘Do Not Track Kids’ Proposal Is ‘Off Track’
Washington, DC, May 9, 2011 — The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) today expressed strong concerns with the discussion draft of a “Do Not Track Kids Act” released by Representatives Ed Markey (D-MA) and Joe Barton (R-TX). The DMA described the draft bill, which would significantly change the standard set in the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA), as unnecessary and “off track.”
A longtime leader in children’s privacy issues, the DMA supported and worked actively with Congress to pass COPPA, which was based in part on existing DMA guidelines already followed by its members. COPPA was intended to allay concerns about sexual predators and others who might seek to contact children online and put them in harm’s way, and the DMA supported the legislation on the belief that children under the age of 13 are not prepared to actively participate in the economic marketplace without parental involvement.
While a statement released with the draft legislation acknowledged that that the Internet enables millions of kids to “learn, play, and connect with others every day,” the Markey-Barton proposals goes far beyond simply modernizing the existing COPPA standard, effectively prohibiting online marketing and advertising to anyone under the age of 18 and giving the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) authority to define what it means to be “online,” to offer an online service, what constitutes an online or mobile application, and what websites, services or applications it considers to be “directed to children.”
“The Markey-Barton proposal would create enormous obstacles to commercial speech to teenagers, requiring costly verifiable consent before a teenager could sign up for information, for example, about colleges or college test prep courses, their favorite sports team or their favorite band,” said DMA Executive Vice President of Washington Operations Linda Woolley. “Students would be largely cut off from receiving information about vocational schools, college counseling services, and college test preparation services that help minors to make important decisions about their futures.”
The DMA also believes that a government-mandated “Do Not Track” mechanism for kids is unnecessary, as this kind of protection for children is already effectively provided through self-regulation. The Self-Regulatory Program for Online Behavioral Advertising launched by the DMA and four other leading trade associations includes a principle that specifically addresses children, prohibiting entities from collecting personal information from children when such entities have actual knowledge that the children are under 13 or from sites directed to children under 13 for online behavioral advertising purposes. Additionally, the principle provides that entities may not engage in online behavioral advertising directed to children when the entities have actual knowledge that a child is under 13. The DMA believes that robust self-regulation is the best and most appropriate way to address privacy concerns in connection with online behavioral advertising, including concerns related to children.
Finally, the DMA believes that any legislation making changes to COPPA is premature in light of the FTC’s on-going review of the COPPA Rule. The DMA has encouraged the FTC in its review and expressed a commitment to exploring with the Commission ways to provide even more innovative online experiences, content and protections for children in the United States.
The DMA encourages Representatives Markey and Barton and their colleagues in Congress to bear in mind that children are growing up in a digital world, and increasingly their success in this global economy will depend on their ability to navigate online platforms and emerging technologies. COPPA already provides a strong framework to protect children from sexual predators, which the “Do Not Track Kids Act” cites as the main reason that parents are concerned about children revealing personal information online. It would be a disservice to our children and the U.S. economy if Congress unnecessarily inhibited growth in new areas of Internet innovation that will lead to even richer learning experiences for America’s youth. The DMA therefore continues to support COPPA in its current form, providing carefully tailored protections for children that balance the goals of keeping children safe and preserving the interactivity of the Internet.
The DMA looks forward to continued conversation with the Representatives and their staffs to ensure that any legislation safeguards the growth of the Internet and the technological innovation that drives the U.S. economy.