My latest Mercatus Center white paper is entitled “Kids, Privacy, Free Speech & the Internet: Finding The Right Balance.” From the intro:
Concerns about children’s privacy are an important part of [the ongoing privacy debate]. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) already mandates certain online-privacy protections for children under the age of 13. The goal of COPPA was to enhance parents’ involvement in their children’s online activities and better safeguard kids’ personal information online. The FTC is currently considering an expansion of COPPA, and lawmakers in the House of Representatives introduced legislation that would expand COPPA and apply additional FIPPS regulations to teenagers. Some state-based measures also propose expanding COPPA
While well-intentioned, efforts to expand privacy regulation along these lines would cause a number of unintended consequences of both a legal and economic nature. In particular, expanding COPPA raises thorny issues about online free speech and anonymity. Ironically, it might also require that more information about individuals be collected to enforce the law’s parental-consent provisions. There are better ways to protect the privacy of children online than imposing burdensome new regulatory mandates on the Internet and online consumers. Education, empowerment, and targeted enforcement of unfair and deceptive practice policies represent the better way forward.