Flanked by the chairs of the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission, Common Sense CEO James Steyer unveiled a new poll that showed parents are concerned about their kids online safety and privacy and want the government to do something about it.
That came at a Common Sense-organized online privacy event Friday Oct. 8 at the National Press Club.
According to the Zogby poll of over 2,000 adults, 75% of parents gave a "negative" rating to the job that social
networks are doing protecting children's online privacy, while 68% said the same about search engines keeping kids' information safe and secure.
Steyer said that 88% of parents would support a law requiring online search engines to get permission before they use personal information to market products, and that even 85% of the 400 teenagers polled said that they should have that same opt-in control.
Steyer also said that concern is "growing dramatically," pointing out that 85% of parents were more concerned
about online privacy than they were five years ago.
FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz called the study findings "very, very interesting," while Genachowski, a founding board
member of Common Sense, characterized them as a "call to action," adding: "Common Sense's poll reveals that we've got a lot of work to do."
The actions Common Sense was promoting included no behavioral marketing to kids, by which Steyer means kids under 18; requiring an affirmative opt-in policy for information sharing of kids, no geolocation targeting without opt
in, clearer and simpler privacy statements, a massive education program, funded by industry.
Steyer wants the government to update its privacy policies and also called for an "easy button" of sorts that
would allow kids to "erase" social network posts--pictures, comments about others--that could come back to haunt
them in later life. He said that was so "when some 15-year-old does some really dumb thing on their Facebook page, they don't have to live with the consequences of that mistake for the rest of their lives." He pointed out that
adults make some pretty dumb mistakes as well.
Both Genachowski and Leibowitz agreed with Steyer that their definition of kid is 17 and under. Currently the
Children's Online Privacy Protection Act defines kid as 13 and under. The FTC is reviewing its implementation of that law and Leibowitz said its proposals for changes to its rules, and the underlying law, is targeted for a November release. Those will likely include recommendations for clearer privacy policies and giving teens more control over their information.
Leibowtiz pointed out that the FTC is currently bound by that law, which would include the age definition. But one
of the FTC's recommended tweaks to the underlying legislation could be a recommendation to raise that age limit.
Steyer said Friday that Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), author of the COPPA law that passed in 1998, was planning to
introduce legislation to update it. Quoting from a Markey statement, Steyer said: "Twelve years after the bill was
signed into law, entire new technologies have emerged that could put children's safety at risk, making a legislative update necessary. I look forward to introducing such legislation to bring COPPA into the 21st century."
While Steyer said industry would likely complain about new government policies, massing "legions of lobbyists
trying to protect their own self interest--he argued, as did Genachowski, that providing more safety and security
would actually stimulate business. Genachowski pointed out that one of the disincentives to broadband adoption was some people's concern about their privacy online.
"If people fear that new technology puts their privacy at risk, they are less likely to use those new technologies," he said. "Parents need to feel confident that their children are safe online and that their personal information is protected.
Genachowski said distrust of the net had serious consequences not only for kids, but for small businesses and the
economy, which "needs a vibrant and trustworthy online marketplace."
Leibowitz was also not sure those potential legions of lobbyists needed to be concerned about losing a big slice
of their advertising audience. He said that even if opt-in policies are adopted, he did not think that a large percentage
of users would forego the values of targeted marketing that tailors ads to their interests.