Representatives Tim Walberg (R-MI) and Bobby Rush (D-IL) introduced legislation on January 9 that would amend the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). According to Walberg and Rush, the legislation would update COPPA to better protect children online.
The bill, titled the Preventing Real Online Threats Endangering Children Today (PROTECT) Kids Act, would amend COPPA by:
- Expanding its protections to children 13–15 years old. Currently, COPPA provides protections related to data collected from children under 13, including parental consent requirements. The PROTECT Kids Act would expand the scope of COPPA to include data collected from children under 16. This would better align COPPA with laws like the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) that protect children 16 and under.
- Affirming that COPPA applies to operators of mobile apps. COPPA applies to operators of websites and other "online services." The new act would add language to the statute clarifying that a mobile application constitutes an "online service." It would also define "mobile application." The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) currently interprets "online service" to include mobile apps.
- Adding "precise geolocation information" and "biometric information" to the enumerated types of personal information protected under COPPA. COPPA defines "personal information" as "individually identifiable information about an individual collected online" and includes a non-exhaustive list of examples. The bill would add "precise geolocation information" and "biometric information" to this list.
In its implementing regulations, the FTC defines personal information to include "[g]eolocation information sufficient to identify street name and name of a city or town." The PROTECT Kids Act would broaden this category—it defines "precise geolocation information" as "historical or real-time location information, or inferences drawn from other information, capable of identifying the location of an individual or a consumer device of an individual with specificity sufficient to identify street level location information or an individual's or device's location within a range of 1,650 feet or less."
The term "biometric information" is not currently used in COPPA or its implementing regulations. The bill would define "biometric information" as "the record of any unique, immutable biological attribute or measurement generated by automatic measurements of a consumer's biological characteristics, including fingerprints, genetic information, iris or retina patterns, facial characteristics, or hand geometry, that are used to uniquely and durably authenticate the identity of a consumer when such consumer accesses a physical location, device, system, or account."
- Prohibiting operators from terminating services to a child whose parent has requested deletion or refused further collection of the child's personal information. Under current law, operators are permitted to terminate services to a child whose parent or guardian has directed the operator to delete the child's personal information or refused to permit further use or collection of the personal information, provided that operators cannot condition a child's participation in an activity on the child disclosing more personal information than is reasonably necessary. The PROTECT Kids Act would prohibit operators from terminating services to a child whose parent or guardian has requested deletion or refused further use or collection of the child's personal information.
- Adding language that requires operators to delete a child's personal information upon request from a parent. COPPA regulations require operators to provide parents and guardians the "opportunity at any time to refuse to permit the operator's further use or future online collection of personal information from that child, and to direct the operator to delete the child's personal information." The PROTECT Kids Act would add language stating that operators must delete a child's personal information upon request from a parent or guardian.
The legislation would also direct the FTC to study and make recommendations to Congress regarding COPPA's "actual knowledge" standard. COPPA imposes requirements on operators of websites or online services directed to a general audience if the operators have "actual knowledge" that they are collecting, using or disclosing personal information from children under 13. Whether this "actual knowledge" standard is too high to adequately protect children has been much debated by stakeholders and was a key topic of conversation at the FTC's recent workshop on potential updates to COPPA regulations.
The PROTECT Kids Act reflects continued interest in the regulation of children's online privacy. In November, Representatives Mike Johnson (R-LA) and Ben McAdams (D-UT) introduced a congressional resolution that calls on the technology industry to develop a self-regulatory body to protect children from harmful app content. As the 116th Congress enters its second and final session, additional legislation regarding children's online privacy may be introduced in the coming weeks.
The FTC is also in the process of reviewing its regulations implementing COPPA. It recently concluded collecting public comments regarding, among other topics, potential updates to the parental right to review or delete children's information, and whether there are circumstances in which general audience platforms with third-party child-directed content can rebut the assumption that all users interacting with that content are children. We continue to monitor the FTC's regulatory process on this topic.