By Jedidiah Bracy, CIPP
Earlier this week, researchers released a report concluding that the efficacy of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is in question because parents may be unknowingly complicit in circumventing the law when helping children lie about their age for the purposes of opening Facebook profiles. The report, “Why parents help their children lie to Facebook about age: Unintended consequences of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act,” was co-authored by danah boyd, Eszter Hargittai, Jason Schultz and John Palfrey. The Daily Dashboard caught up with danah boyd, senior researcher at Microsoft Research and visiting researcher at Harvard University’s Law School and Research Assistant Professor in the Media, Culture and Communication Department at New York University, to share her perspective on the study.
DD: Your research indicates that COPPA is no longer the correct approach for protecting children’s privacy. How should lawmakers approach privacy legislation moving forward?
boyd: I personally believe that we need to focus our efforts on how data is sold and used rather than focusing on the process of collection.
DD: Are there things privacy professionals and companies can do now to help prevent parents from circumventing age restrictions?
1. I personally believe that we should change COPPA. Parents want their children to have access to online spaces, and companies are going to continue restricting access if the law is driven by age.
2. We need to invest in media literacy. Neither adults nor children understand what's happening to their online data. Everyone needs to understand this better. More effort needs to be put into helping people understand this.
3. We should also consider maturity rating systems. Just like the MPAA gives parents a reasonable way to quickly determine what is appropriate for their kids, so should online social media. Provide an easy mechanism to convey what is done with data so that parents can make informed decisions. Parents seem amenable to this.
DD: Are Europeans less likely to lie about age because they have more universal and less sector-specific privacy laws?
boyd: We cite work by Sonia Livingstone that shows that just as many—if not more—European children are also on these sites under the restricted age.
DD: Were you surprised by your conclusions?
boyd: Most of them, no. I've spent the last decade interviewing families. Much of what is reported in this first pass aligns with what I've seen for years. I was surprised at how many parents thought it was acceptable to lie to get access. I was surprised by how nicely the numbers line up with the numbers of children who report being on these sites. And there's a lot of more complicated data that I'm still processing that is much more surprising to me that really shows differences across demographics.
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