FTC proposes an update to ancient online law, COPPA

The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act may get its first update since Mark Zuckerberg was a 15-year-old.

April of 2000. Everybody loved "Everybody Loves Raymond." Movie fans flocked to "U-571," which I don't remember at all. And Sisqo topped the charts.

That month also saw enactment of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA.

Mark Zuckerberg was a child himself then, 15. Since then, Zuckerberg built Facebook and we've seen the rise of online social networks lead to growing concern over privacy online, especially for kids. Yet COPPA is pretty much the same as it's always been.

Phyllis Marcus is an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission, which has proposed new changes to deal with modern challenges. Marcus says, "So there are practices such as the collection of geo-location information, of course the explosion in mobile use among children, and the entire marketplace that is now the apps world. We have seen information collections that are more passive, that parents and children don't know might be going on, and we're trying to update our rules to capture that kind of information collection as well."

The FTC sees a world where online companies have a stricter code of conduct and parents will need to be more hands-on. Susan Lyon is an attorney with the law firm Cooley LLP, specializing in privacy law, and says, "The rules as proposed would require certain types of companies to have to ask for the age of whoever is using an application or going to a website, or if somebody is under the age of 13, either block them or potentially have to get parental permission and then provide you as a parent with certain notices around that."

If you run a website, some sort of social network for instance, you want to get more kids online. Advertisers are eager to reach out to kids, they make a lot of buying decisions.

With these new rules, the FTC is saying that's all fine IF you shoulder some responsibility.

Jules Polonetsky directs The Future of Privacy Forum and says, "You go to one website and your data goes to many many other parties, to ad networks, all sorts of third parties, and they've made it pretty clear here that if a child comes to your site and then their data gets sent to many other ad networks or other social plug-ins that you've integrated, you can't say, I'm sorry. That's not me. I don't understand exactly what happens at my site. I'm only responsible for what I do. Go talk to those third parties. If you integrate those networks or social media plug-ins on your site, you're on the hook."

The FTC is now taking comments from industry and from parents about the proposed new rules. If passed, the rules could take affect by the end of the year.

**

Time to report the findings. The funky funky findings.

According to a recent study, most apps are total failures. Apple offers hundreds of thousands of apps for iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches -- iPods Touch? But the analytics company Adeven says two thirds of those apps are never ever downloaded. That's because they're invisible to customers. And THAT is because no one ever buys them. Because customers can't find them. Because -- well, you get the idea.

In fact, the company says only a couple thousand apps see any meaningful downloads and that the best sellers usually stay the same.

Apple's search system is subpar, Adeven says, and it's nearly impossible to find more obscure apps. It's like if the only music you could ever hear was top 40.

"Angry Birds" is the Carly Rae Jepsen of the app store.

About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.

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