Lawmakers applaud progress, call for strong rules to protect children and teens’ privacy, and caution that FTC action “in no way diminishes” need for Congress to act

Text of Letter (PDF)  

Washington (September 30, 2022) ­– Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, led his colleagues Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Representatives Kathy Castor (FL-14) and Lori Trahan (MA-03) in sending a letter to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair Lina Khan applauding the FTC’s continued efforts to implement strong privacy safeguards and intake feedback from experts on how to effectively address surveillance threats to children and teens online. The FTC’s announcement of an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) for online privacy, which included particular attention to the threats to young people online, coincided with the first anniversary of the Wall Street Journal’s publication of the Facebook Files, leaked internal documents from Facebook, which made clear the company was aware of the harm its Instagram platform caused for youth mental health.

In the lawmakers’ letter to the FTC, they also urge the Commission to update rules issued under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Specifically, the lawmakers call on the Commission to update regulations, including by:

  1. Expanding the definition of “personal information” covered under COPPA;
  2. Implementing rules to effectuate COPPA’s requirement that platforms protect the confidentiality, security, and integrity of children’s data; 
  3. Implementing regulatory protections that reflect the increased use of online platforms for educational purposes; and
  4. Implementing rules to effectuate COPPA’s prohibition on conditioning a child’s participation in an online activity on the child sharing more data than is reasonably necessary.

“Experts agree that we have reached a crisis point for children and teens online, as the rates of mental health challenges for them soar, and the U.S. Surgeon General has called on technology and social media companies to address these threats to young people,” the lawmakers wrote. “In countries around the world, government entities have begun to take action by enacting policies that combat pernicious online threats to kids. The United States must now do the same.”

In their letter, the lawmakers stress that the FTC’s latest commitment to explore rules to “crack down on harmful commercial surveillance and lax data security” does not diminish Congress’ urgent obligation to swiftly pass legislation that will protect young users online, including Senator Markey’s updated Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA 2.0).

“The urgency of this issue requires an all-of-the-above approach,” the lawmakers continued. “We look forward to working with you as these processes move forward to ensure that kids and teens in the United States have the online protections they need and deserve.”

In May 2021, Senator Markey introduced the Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act, co-sponsored by Senators Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Commerce Committee members Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), which would prohibit internet companies from collecting personal information from anyone 13- to 16-years old without the user’s consent; ban targeted marketing to children; create an online “Eraser Button” by requiring companies to permit users to eliminate personal information from a child or teen; implement a “Digital Marketing Bill of Rights for Minors” that limits the collection of personal information from young users; and establish a first-of-its-kind Youth Privacy and Marketing Division at the Federal Trade Commission, which will be responsible for addressing the privacy of children and minors and marketing directed at children and minors. The legislation, which advanced through the Senate Commerce Committee in July, builds upon the Senator’s 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.