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.