Gumming Up the Internet – For the Children

by on February 14, 2007

Phil Windley points to an interesting site called that shows the inutility of names for distingushing among people (when there are lots of them).

I was struck when visiting it, though, that the site requires users to declare their age. The reason? The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

COPPA is one of my favorite superfluous laws. It starts from the premise that parents can’t or shouldn’t be responsible for their children’s online experiences, and it has probably diminished the availability of educational content online for children, particularly children on the margins.

I had fun with it a few years ago (as a novice self-promoting think-tanker) by pointing out the government’s bald hypocrisy in regulating the private sector without regulating itself.

The COPPA declaration on this site illustrates well how dumb regulation gums up the Internet (and other media too). Someone with an interesting idea had to spend a bunch of extra time on his or her project to put it in compliance with a federal law (that I think probably doesn’t actually apply in this case). And just as importantly, millions of people will have to click an extra couple of clicks (I had to go back and do the age declaration) just to get a couple of interesting tidbits of info.

Take these modest inconveniences and multiply them by thousands of Web sites, then by millions or billions of clicks. Then, consider that two or three such gummy inconveniences are added to the burdens Web businesses carry every year. You start to realize that fresh, invigorating ideas and entertainments we could be enjoying are being slowly but surely sapped of energy and vigor. All so the government can do stuff like insinuate itself into the rearing of children.

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