Mar 26, 2020 - Technology

Kids' privacy groups ask FTC to probe Google, Disney as streaming surges

An illustration of a child standing and pressing her hands against a giant smartphone screen.

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Children's privacy advocates on Thursday cited the coronavirus pandemic to urge the Federal Trade Commission to force companies like Google and Disney to turn over details on how they gather and use data to target kids.

The big picture: The groups argue that with more children at home streaming video and relying on online learning, it's vital the agency understands digital media's and ed tech companies' collection and use of data.

Details: The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and Center for Digital Democracy said in a letter that they want the FTC to subpoena tech and media companies to better understand their practices before it makes any changes to how it enforces the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

  • Potential targets for the study that the groups identify include: Google, Disney, Comcast, AT&T, and ed-tech companies Blackboard and Edmodo.
  • The agency has been reviewing its implementation of COPPA, the 1998 law that empowers the FTC to punish companies that violate children's privacy.
  • The FTC can order companies to answer questions about business practices under what's known as its 6(b) authority.
  • The groups previously asked the FTC to begin gathering such information in December.
“With schools closed across the country, American families are more dependent than ever on digital media to educate and occupy their children. It’s now urgent that the FTC use its full authority to shed light on the business models of the ed tech and children’s digital media industries so we can understand what Big Tech knows about our children and what they are doing with that information."
— Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood

Google declined to comment on the request. The other companies named in the letter didn't comment.

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