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Advocacy Groups Demand FTC Put More Restrictions On Online Gaming Services

Advocacy Groups Demand FTC Put More Restrictions On Online Gaming Services

July 2, 2010 | By Kris Graft

July 2, 2010 | By Kris Graft
More: Console/PC

Several child advocacy groups are requesting that the Federal Trade Commission put more restrictions on kids' online activity, in light of an increase in networked platforms including game consoles.

The groups are pushing the FTC to update the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, established in 1998. With more platforms connecting to the internet, such as video game consoles and mobile phones, the groups are asking for a revision of the measure.

"When Congress passed COPPA in 1998, computers provided the only means of accessing websites and online services," the request reads [PDF]. "Today, adults and children have many other ways to access the Internet and online services including mobile phones, gaming consoles, and interactive television."

The statement continues, "In addition, marketers have developed very sophisticated methods of collecting data and are using that data to target individuals with personalized marketing messages. These developments have increased the risks to children’s privacy."

In its current form, COPPA generally prohibits a website operator or online service that's directed at children from collecting personal information from children without parental consent. The groups say that the FTC should broaden its definition of personal information to include other data like zip codes, IP addresses, gender, and other pieces of information that are used to track customer behavior. The collection of this information, the groups say, may violate kids' privacy.

The groups also want the FTC to clarify COPPA's wording of "website located on the Internet
or an online service" so that it includes platforms like mobile devices, interactive TVs and video game consoles.

Additionally, the advocate groups want the FTC to more clearly define the meaning of a website or online servies "directed at children." The groups say COPPA should define a child-targeted website or online service as one that has a demographic in which 2-11 year olds make up 20 percent or more of the audience, among other factors.

One of the organizations making the request to the FTC is Common Sense Media. In a separate statement [PDF], the group argued that COPPA should apply not just to children under the age of 13, but any minor under the age of 18. This means that the same regulations that apply to a small child will also apply to a 17-year-old.

A report on CNET said that it's also possible that gamers may have to enter a credit card to access an online service, or use another method to verify their age if COPPA is updated according to the groups' request.

Attorney Ben Szoka with free-market advocate Progress and Freedom Foundation told CNET, "These suggestions and discussion are totally divorced from practical realities. It's a burden on site operators. It's a burden on speech rights, especially when you're talking about teens, to access information without parental consent. Teens do have speech rights."

He added that parents do have the ability to block access to websites and online services using current technological options on consoles and computers. "What this really comes down to is that people at these groups think that parents are too dumb or lazy to use these tools," he said.

But Common Sense's statement said it's trying to aid parents. "Today, the rapidly evolving and increasingly mobile digital world makes it significantly harder for parents to control their children’s personal information online," the group said.

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