Originally on WRAL Tech Wire

December 10, 2019

Attorney General Josh Stein has urged the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to strengthen its rules prohibiting websites, mobile apps, and other digital marketing companies from collecting personal information from children under the age of 13 and using that information to track children’s online activities.

In a letter petitioning the federal agency, he joined some two other dozen state attorneys who are asking the federal agency to implement better online protections for children.

“We must do everything in our power to keep children safe wherever they are, including online,” said Attorney General Josh Stein, in a statement. “That’s why I drafted the SAFE Child Act, which protects kids from predators online, and why I’m urging the FTC to keep companies from using our kids’ data to make a profit.”

Many websites and mobile applications collect personal information from users, including geolocation information, browser histories, search histories, voice recordings, and more. In 1996, Congress passed the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) prohibiting this type of data collection from children under the age of 13. Both the FTC and all state attorneys general are empowered to enforce COPPA, though only the FTC is empowered to issue regulations based on COPPA.

The coalition of attorneys general are urging the FTC to expand its definition of personal information to include things like faceprints used to unlock consumers’ cellphones, health data from internet-connected smart watches, and kids’ genetic information. The coalition urged the FTC to clamp down on companies that embed code in children’s mobile apps and use the data collected to serve ads to children, and to examine the rules around companies that issue free laptops to schools as long as they get to collect information from the students using them. Further, the attorneys general urged the FTC not to create exceptions to the rule that would allow massive websites like YouTube to skirt COPPA’s requirements.

Attorney General Stein has championed efforts to protect children online. A key provision of the SAFE Child Act, drafted by Attorney General Stein and signed into law in November, prohibits high-risk sex offenders from contacting anyone under the age of 16 through websites or social media platforms.

Attorney General Stein is joined in sending today’s letter by the Attorneys General of Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.