Kids, Privacy, Free Speech & the Internet: Finding the Right Balance
Adam D. Thierer
George Mason University - Mercatus Center
August 12, 2011
In the field of Internet policy, 2011 has been the year of privacy. Congress has introduced six bills related to online privacy, and the Obama administration released two major reports recommending greater federal oversight of online markets. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) appears poised to step up regulatory activity on this front. State-level activity is also percolating, led by California, which floated two major bills recently.
These efforts would expand regulatory oversight of online activities in various ways. Some measures would institute Fair Information Practice Principles (FIPPS), governing the collection and use of personal information online. Others would limit some types data collection, ban certain data or advertising practices, or create new mechanisms to help consumers block online ad-targeting techniques. Another measure would mandate websites adopt a so-called Internet Eraser Button, which would allow users to purge unwanted personal information from online sites and services. Expansion of the Children's Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA), which already mandates certain online privacy protections for children under the age of 13, is also being considered.
While well-intentioned, efforts to expand privacy regulation along these lines would cause a number of unintended consequences of both a legal and economic nature. In particular, expanding COPPA raises thorny issues about online free speech and anonymity. Ironically, it might also require more parental consent provisions. There are better ways to protect the privacy of children online than imposing burdensome new regulatory mandates on the Internet and online consumers. Education, empowerment, and targeted enforcement of unfair and deceptive practices represent the better way forward.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 15
Keywords: children, kids, COPPA, privacy, free speech, First Amendment, eraser button, safety, Internet, Federal Trade Commission, FTC, EU, anonymity, parents
JEL Classification: K20
Date posted: August 15, 2011