Lawmakers Propose COPPA Expansion

Advertising Law

A new bill introduced in the House of Representatives would update the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), broadening the existing statutory protections to include youth under the age of 16.

Currently, the requirement that parental consent must be obtained before a company can collect personal data (such as name, address or persistent identifiers) applies to children under the age of 13.

The Preventing Real Online Threats Endangering Children Today Act (PROTECT Kids Act), sponsored by Reps. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) and Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), would extend the statutory requirements to cover minors for another three years, until the age of 16.

H.R. 5573 would also establish an “eraser button” that would give parents the ability to delete the personal information of their children. The new bill also explicitly provides that the protections in COPPA apply to services provided through mobile applications, not just websites, and adds precise geolocation and biometric information to the categories of protected personal information.

“Children today are more connected online and face dangers that we could not have imagined years ago,” Rep. Walberg said in a statement about the proposed legislation, which was referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. “While advancements in technology allows for many benefits, it also poses a risk for our kids.”

This new bill is part of a broader effort to modernize COPPA in a rapidly changing online world. The new bill follows a similar measure, introduced in March of last year in the Senate, which contemplated even more significant changes to federal law.

Backed by Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Josh Hawley (R-Miss.), the Digital Marketing Bill of Rights for Minors would prohibit behaviorally targeted ads that are directed to anyone under the age of 16 and mandate that companies obtain explicit consent from teens between the ages of 13 and 15 before collecting their personal information or location data. In many respects, the new PROTECT Kids Act strikes a middle ground between COPPA’s current protections and the bill that Sen. Markey introduced last year.

To read H.R. 5573, click here.

Why it matters: Only a month into the new decade, COPPA continues to make headline news. All this attention can be linked to several high-profile Federal Trade Commission (FTC) COPPA enforcement actions from 2019. Popular short-form video app TikTok agreed in February 2019 to a $5.7 million settlement with the FTC after it was accused of collecting personal information of children under age 13 without consent via an integrated karaoke app called Musical.ly. The TikTok settlement was nearly double the largest prior COPPA settlement. Also, in September 2019, the FTC announced a record $170 million settlement with Google and YouTube after allegations that YouTube’s video sharing service illegally collected personal information from children without parental consent—by far the largest such settlement since COPPA was enacted.

While it remains to be seen whether the PROTECT Kids Act becomes law, companies can—and should—expect to see significant movement in 2020 regarding additional protections for children’s online privacy. These legislative efforts to update COPPA come as the FTC is conducting a regulatory review of its COPPA Rule. Congress has in recent years considered several measures seeking to expand privacy protections for minors or to expand the requirements under COPPA, with no success. While privacy remains a hot topic on Capitol Hill, it remains to be seen whether lawmakers can come together to pass the proposed measure.

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