FTC Seeks to Make Temporary COPPA Provision Permanent

Matt O'Conner
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Federal Trade Commission is seeking public comment on a proposal to make permanent a temporary provision of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act Rule.

The temporary provision allows operators of websites and online services that collect personal information from children solely for internal use to obtain verifiable parental consent via email.

The Rule currently uses a “sliding scale” approach, whereby websites and online services can obtain parental consent through the use of an email plus an additional step to ensure the person providing consent actually is a parent.

If an operator intends to disclose a child’s information publicly or to third parties, the Rule requires it to employ more reliable methods of obtaining parental consent. Such methods include using a print-and-send consent form; a credit card transaction; a toll-free telephone number staffed by trained personnel; a digital certificate using public key technology; or an email with a password or PIN obtained by one of the above methods.

The FTC adopted the sliding scale approach when it issued the Rule in 1999. At that time, the agency anticipated that more sophisticated, reliable and cost-efficient technology for obtaining parental consent would become available soon, so the sliding scale approach was set to expire in 2002.

In 2002, the FTC extended the sliding scale approach until April 21, 2005, because the expected technology still was not available.

Since there is no evidence that such technology will become available in the next few months, the FTC is proposing that the Rule be amended to make permanent the sliding scale approach.

The FTC is seeking comments on whether: (1) current or anticipated technology could provide reliable means for obtaining parental consent at a reasonable cost; (2) eliminating, extending or making permanent the sliding scale approach would affect the incentive to develop such technology; (3) eliminating the sliding scale approach would effect how website operators use information collected from children; and (4) the sliding scale approach should be eliminated, extended or made permanent.

Comments may be filed electronically using the web-based form available at https://secure.commentworks.com/ftcslidingscale/. Comments must be received by Feb. 14, 2005.