The Unintended Consequences Of Trying To Overprotect Children From The Internet

from the they-lie-and-new-services-aren't-developed dept

A few months ago, we mentioned the ridiculousness of the the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which has strict rules for any sites that target services to children under the age of 13. It’s one of those “for the children!” laws that are so popular with politicians, but which never seem to have any basis in evidence, and never seem to consider the unintended consequences. Under the law, as we noted, any site that wants to target kids has to meet certain very high standards, requiring permission from parents. In theory (and in a total vacuum) perhaps this sounds good. But the real impact is that very few sites look to create useful internet services for kids… and kids learn pretty early in their youth how to lie about their age online.

Jeff Jarvis recently was on a conference call about COPPA where he asked an FTC attorney some questions about COPPA, the actual research behind it, and the unintended consequences — and seemed to get back the conference call equivalent of a blank stare:

I asked Mamie Kresses, senior attorney for the FTC?s Division of Advertising Practices, whether there had been any study about how truthful children are reporting their ages online. They have no such research, she said. I asked whether the FTC had any data about how often parents use the means of notice and consent COPPA provides. None, she said.

The most disturbing unintended consequence of the regulation, I think, is the chill it likely puts on serving children online. In the early days of the web, I started the Yuckiest Site on the Internet ? about goo, bugs, and science ? to serve young readers at the local news sites I ran. After COPPA, my employer decided the risk in serving young people and even inadvertently recording a child?s name or targeting an ad was too great.

We don?t know how many sites have not been started to serve children online. Isn?t this the group we should be serving best? I asked Kresses whether the FTC had done research on the extent of a chill. No, she said.

Finally, I asked whether the FTC had revisited the reasons for COPPA. What harm are we trying to prevent by restricting identity online ? and is it effective? She responded with circular logic: They are giving parents the opportunity of notice and consent regarding children?s information.

From there, he points out that we shouldn’t base our entire policy on the assumption that the worst case scenario will happen to all kids. As he notes, kids are still kidnapped, but we still let them play outside. This doesn’t mean we should let them run wild online — just like we don’t let kids run wild outside, either. But the rules, as set today, effectively say that children can only run outside in a few very inconvenient parks. We’re overprotecting. And, as Jarvis notes, the ability to play online is important:

Children need to play online, too. They should create and get credit for their creativity. They should be able to establish a relationship with an educational site where they can track their own progress. Technology and the net don?t just present danger; they afford opportunity. But by focusing only on the former, we can risk losing sight of the latter.

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Comments on “The Unintended Consequences Of Trying To Overprotect Children From The Internet”

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25 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

“After COPPA, my employer decided the risk in serving young people and even inadvertently recording a child?s name or targeting an ad was too great. “

If they are so simple minded as to not understand technology enough to know how to do this, they really get what they deserve. Stop asking for kids names, and you won’t have to worry if you stored them or not.

“Children need to play online, too. They should create and get credit for their creativity. “

During the whole .XXX told debate, one of the most common refrains was that we don’t need a porn domain, we need a children’s domain. A small number of “.KIDS” sites, monitored by an authority that can quickly disable any site violating the rules, would have the effect of creating a kid safe neighborhood.

The internet is a massive open sewer at times, with porn, drugs, scams, and predatory behavior left and right. Dumping your kids on the open internet is on par with dumping them in the red light district of Bangkok. It’s barely safe for informed adults, let alone children.

You cannot let your kids run loose in that environment, nor would we be stupid enough to build a swing set next to a stripper pole in a peeler bar. Reasonable expectations, no?

Lord Binky says:

Re: Re:

“If they are so simple minded as to not understand technology enough to know how to do this, they really get what they deserve. Stop asking for kids names, and you won’t have to worry if you stored them or not.”

Um, No. It is simple minded to think that they would not have more trouble than they wanted to deal with if they provided any interactivity with kids. It is as true as there exists adults out to get kids that there are adults out to get companies and an easy buck.

Beta (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“If they are so simple minded as to not understand technology enough to know how to [avoid inadvertently recording a child’s name], they really get what they deserve. Stop asking for kids names [sic], and you won’t have to worry if you stored them or not.”

Really? So you could design a comment section or visitor log that would allow children to type in anything except their real names? Without knowing their real names beforehand? This technology of which you speak is truly wondrous, and your understanding of it is mighty indeed.

Brendan (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

And how would that sync up with an intelligent system to help a young student track progress in a tricky subject? Or let them report back results after trying some safe kitchen table experiments?

You need _something_ trackable to create a persistent account/identity, and the bar for storing any such information for children is just Too Damn High (TM).

frosty840 says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

My name may or may not be Bill and I may or may not be thirteen years old. This is definitely the comments section, my possible-name has been recorded, even though, gasp, shock, horror, actually thinking about stuff, it was never asked for.

This is how “inadvertently recording a child’s name” works.

Troll harder.

TimothyAWiseman (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“If they are so simple minded as to not understand technology enough to know how to do this, they really get what they deserve. Stop asking for kids names, and you won’t have to worry if you stored them or not.”

There are several problems with this. For one, it is children suffering from a lack of content tailored for them online more than it is a company sufferin for making the choice no to provide content for young children.

Further, it is not that simple to comply. If you permit any form of commenting at all and knowingly permit someone under 13 to participate (without going through an incredibly burdensome process of getting verified consent from a parent), you have essentially violated this.

And finally, even if there were somehow an easier and effective wa to comply, a chilling effect is created by the *perception* that compliance is difficult.

FuzzyDuck says:

Re: Re:

A small number of “.KIDS” sites, monitored by an authority that can quickly disable any site violating the rules, would have the effect of creating a kid safe neighborhood.

Sure, I am going to invest in setting up a site for kids in the .kids domain, only to be at the mercy of some faceless bureaucrat, who can at a whim decide to remove my sites… or I can set up a site in .com, .org or another country. Hmmm, let’s see…

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

I wonder about the Constitutionality of this law. It reminds me of the California law banning the sale of violent video games to minors. Parental authority is a privilege that parents can exercise against children. It is not a privilege they may exercise against others. Why can I not direct speech at someone else’s children? If you don’t want your children to hear what I say just keep them somewhere else…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

If you’d ever been to Steam, you’d realize why this is. Even if you *are* logged in, every time you want to view the page for an M-rated game, you need to input your birthday from a series of drop-down boxes.. Not the first time you view any M-rated game, and not the first time you view each particular M-rated game, but *every time*. You’d think that the site could, you know, *remember* what birthday you put in.
The first 5 or so games I viewed, I conscientiously gave my real DOB. The next 5 or so, I left the January 1st fields at their default values, and chose my real year of birth. For the remaining 100 or so times I just click the year, flick my mouse scroll wheel up (I have one of the nice free-rolling Logitech mice), and pick whatever year it happens to stop on.
For such a great service as Steam it’s really some poor UI design.

lcloria2 (profile) says:

Kids on line....

If you sterilize childrens websites to the extent that legislation may mandate, then marketing would be impossible. Then, what would be the point of having the website? Personally, my children were raised with the web and taught to use it properly from a young age. Yes, I still have to clean up thier laptops occasionally but, they’re learning, more and faster than I did. Parents!, police your own children and don’t allow legislation that will hinder others. If you’re afraid of the web, then keep YOUR kids off of it. (my kids are 19 and 24 yrs. old at this comment)

Digitari says:

RE Kids and New fangle toys

Lawn, off, Get… wait

Anyone online in a “pubic” chat room that admits to being a “kid” most likely IS progeny of a goat.

I hate to say this however, some parents out there are just children that maybe should NOT have been protected as much as they were.

if you want to protect YOUR children, their safety should not infringe on MY rights.

“for the children”…” Why? I didn’t make them!!”

Jeff Chester (user link) says:

COPPA and why's its needed

It would be useful for you to better understand why COPPA was required in the first place–the growth of data collection targeted to kids online. For that read “Generation Digital” [MIT Press]. Anyone who understands how digital marketing and data collection really work, knows COPPA is a success. An entire range of data collection techniques, including social media surveillance, doesn’t occur on kids sites required to have an opt-in. The industry is opposed to an opt-in regime, as well as admitting that persistent identifiers are personal information. If you are targeting kids online, you have to play fair–and that means getting parental permission for data collection. For those interested in learning more, see our digitalads.org and democraticmedia.org

xiaoeee says:

Say NO to kids online!!! Design a better law that would be all about simply banishing kids online and also protecting their offline privacy by not letting them to be outside – even with the parents!!! In those backward Muslim countries women aren’t allowed to go outside. We need the same but with children, and this won’t be backward but forward progress!!!

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