Facebook to FTC: Let Us Advertise to Children

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The Federal Trade Commission is considering an update to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a 1998 bill designed to protect children’s online privacy. Most of COPPA’s regulations are geared toward websites specifically designed for children under 13, such as Club Penguin.

COPPA’s also the reason that children under 13 can’t sign up for services such as Facebook — it’s easier for a website to ban children under 13 than deal with COPPA’s requirement on getting parental constent before collecting personal information from a child.

The FTC’s proposal to change COPPA, announced last month, would add apps, games and online ad networks to the list of restricted platforms. If passed, the new rule changes could have a profound impact on sites used by both children and adults — including Facebook.

Websites used by people of all ages could ask users if they were 13 or younger, and if so, those users would be free to register. However, the new COPPA rules would prevent websites from tracking children’s Internet behavior and displaying ads relevant to their perceived interests. The changes would also put new regulations on third-party providers, given they “know or have reason to know” their plug-ins are being used on a children’s site.

The new rules, however, are less than clear on whether first-party advertising to children will be allowed. That’s got some technology companies — a list that now includes Facebook — worried about what the new rules could mean for business.

Facebook, which has a business model heavily dependent on advertising, asked the FTC in a filing to clarify that websites will still be permitted to show first-party advertisements to children. It stressed that the FTC has previously treated first-party advertisements differently from third-party ads, and urged the FTC to do likewise in any new COPPA language on the basis that first-party ad content is more easily controlled by Facebook.

“The Commission emphasized in its report that it is generally consistent with the context of an interaction for a company to use data collected during first-party interactions for marketing purposes,” reads Facebook’s filing.

“It then distinguished marketing based on data collected as a third party, which the Commission argued was outside of the generally understood context of a consumer’s interaction. The Commission should make that understanding explicit in the COPPA Rule by expressly including first-party advertising under the “internal operations” rubric. This clarification further supports the balance created between the Significant demand for free, advertising-supported services, and the expected tailoring of those services.”

Facebook, which stressed that it supports COPPA’s overall intent of processing children, also wants the FTC to ensure that it would still use tracking-based advertisements on adult users if children and adults were both using the site in the future.

Facebook has been looking for ways to allow children under 13 to use the site without violating COPPA since early June.

Facebook’s full filing with the FTC is embedded below. Should children under the age of 13 be allowed to use Facebook? Should Facebook be allowed to use tracking-based ads on their accounts? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Facebook’s COPPA FTC Filing

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto, RapidEye

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/30/facebook-children-advertising/

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