Dec 5, 2019 - Economy

Advocates call for FTC probe of "kidtech"

A photo of the Federal Trade Commission building with a sign out front

Photo: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A collection of 31 advocacy groups is pressing the Federal Trade Commission on Thursday to dig into how digital media companies advertise to children and collect their data.

The big picture: The request for the FTC to use its subpoena authority to probe so-called kidtech companies comes as the agency considers updates to how it implements a children's online privacy law.

Driving the news: The coalition, which includes the Center for Digital Democracy and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, argues the FTC must examine data collection and digital marketing practices before it changes how it enforces the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

  • Possible targets for the FTC study include Google, Disney, Viacom, Adobe, TikTok, Twitch and AT&T's Warner Media.
  • "As kids are spending more time than ever on digital devices, we need the full power of the law to protect them from predatory data collection — but we can't protect children from Big Tech business models if we don't know how those models truly work," Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, said in a statement.
  • The FTC can order companies to answer questions about business practices under what's known as its 6(b) authority.

Context: The FTC made changes to its COPPA rule in 2013 to take into account how children were using the internet, and expanded the definition of children's personal information to include cookies that track activity online.

  • The commission usually reviews its rules every 10 years, but this summer announced it was launching an early review of COPPA because of rapid changes in technology.
  • Child advocates have expressed concern the early review might lead to weakened rules.

What's next: The groups will press the FTC commissioners to launch the data practices study.

  • Republican FTC Commissioner Christine Wilson has already said she supports such a review, as well as an expanded look at data practices.
  • The FTC's deadline for comments on changes to COPPA is Dec. 9.
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