benign and that collecting information about children's online
activities is necessary to deliver the advertisements that finance
free content and services for children.
"What is the harm we are trying to prevent here?" said Alan L. Friel, chairman of the media and technology practice at the law firm Edwards Wildman Palmer. "We risk losing a lot of the really good educational and entertaining content, if we make things too difficult for people to operate the sites or generate revenue from the sites."
The economic issue at stake is much bigger than just the narrow children's audience. If the F.T.C. were to include customer code numbers among the information that requires a parent's consent, industry analysts say, it might someday require companies to get similar consent for a practice that represents the backbone of digital marketing and advertising -- using such code numbers to track the online activities of adults.
"Once you've said it's personal information for children that requires consent, you've set the framework for a requirement of consent to be applied to another population," Mr. Friel said. "If it is personal information for someone that's 12, it doesn't cease being personal information when they are 13."
Indeed, many of the F.T.C.'s proposed rule revisions have vocal detractors.
Take, for example, the agency's plan to require companies to get parental permission before collecting photographs, videos or voice recordings from children younger than 13. The idea makes sense to some leading privacy researchers, who say that facial recognition technology could allow strangers to identify and possibly contact children.
"Because of advances in facial recognition technology, photos are increasingly identifiable by third parties and not anonymous," said Alessandro Acquisti, an associate professor of information technology and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
Children, he added, often have difficulty understanding the long- term risks of sharing intimate details like photos of themselves. "You might get an immediate benefit from uploading a photo because you get your face close to the mascot," he said, referring to mascots for food and toy companies, but the cost "comes much later."
But the proposed regulation of children's photos could interfere with a popular marketing technique that involves encouraging children to submit photos or videos of themselves online as a way to increase their engagement with a brand. Toy makers, for one, say the F.T.C. has gone too far.
"So long as reasonable methods to assure that the photo, video or audio file, or facial recognition technology, does not include contact details, this sort of engagement does not pose a privacy risk to kids," Carter Keithley, president of the Toy Industry Association, wrote in comments to the F.T.C.
An agency proposal to hold sites and apps liable for the data collection practices of their third-party analytics or advertising partners has also met with fierce opposition.
The Association for Competitive Technology, a trade group representing more than 5,000 app developers, has estimated that complying with such requirements could cost educational app developers $250 million in legal fees. It could also dissuade some developers who rely on free third-party software for features like animation and social networking from designing products for children, said Morgan Reed, the trade group's executive director.
"Children under 13 aren't enough of a market, aren't worthwhile to spend the money on compliance and tolerate the risk of getting it wrong," Mr. Reed said.
Facebook, which does not allow children who say they are younger than 13 to register as members, and Twitter, which says its service is not intended for those younger than 13, have criticized another F.T.C. proposal: to hold third parties liable if they know or have reason to know that they are collecting personal data on children's sites.
The social networks say they cannot keep track of the many sites that download their software plug-ins and therefore cannot know whether they are inadvertently collecting data on children's sites. Google and Apple made a similar argument, telling regulators that app platforms like Android and the iTunes store should not be held liable for the data collection practices of the children's apps they sell.
Many children's advocates, however, have urged the agency to impose the proposed revisions in full, arguing that a stricter rule is needed to give parents greater control over the many entities that track their children.
"Until there are some rules, marketers will continue to use what they have to penetrate children's lives," said Kathryn Montgomery, a professor of communications studies at American University who helped lead the effort to get Congress to pass the original children's online privacy law. "Without constraints, it could easily get out of hand."
Regulators, for their part, said the planned new rules should not inhibit companies from designing apps and sites for children. "The choice they can make is not to engage with children," said Phyllis H. Marcus, a senior attorney in the F.T.C.'s division of advertising practices, "or they may seek parental consent and give robust offerings."
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