New advertising rules may have lifted a major barrier to Facebook’s long-held desire of signing up children under 13 years of age. The Federal Trade Communication revised the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) to exclude parental consent from ads that are based on behavior, rather than personal information. So-called “contextual advertisements” would permit Facebook to monetize children’s activity without violating rules about collecting their private information. Alan Simpson, Vice President of children’s online advocacy network, Common Sense media, tells us that though they agree with some of the rule changes, with regard to contextual ads, “Common Sense doesn’t like this part, and the industry lobbyists probably do.”
The brunt of the FTC’s COPPA update was designed to strengthen children’s privacy. New rules expand COPPA to websites collecting photos, geolocation data, and tracking online behavior. But, the new laws exempted app stores and other platforms.
“I am confident that the amendments to the COPPA Rule strike the right balance between protecting innovation that will provide rich and engaging content for children, and ensuring parents are informed and involved in their children’s online activities,” said FTC Chairman, Jon Leibowitz.
According to The Washington Post, Google, Apple, and Facebook have objected to the new rules. Facebook, in particular, said it’s difficult to know how websites are collecting information from its “like” button and could deter education-related content. For instance, early childhood digital book developer, Lynette Mattke of PicPocket Books, fears that heavy legal fines, upwards of $10,000, could be levied against her for using information used to tailor the product and create learning goals.
There are many popular social networks for children, such as Disney’s Club Penguin; Facebook may maintain its restriction to pre-teens, in part, due to advertising limitations. The updated rules may allow Facebook to instead advertise to children, by, for example, showing them an advertising a soccer ball if they rave about extracurricular sports in a status update.
Of course, Facebook is a still a complex ecosystem and many more precautions would need to taken for such a big influx of a sensitive demographic. Ironically, for updates you can follow the Federal Trade Commission on Facebook here.