Child Protection in the Digital Age

This week, Engine is fortunate to have Alan Simpson (no, not the former senator of Wyoming) posting here about online child safety. We’ll be seeing that post later this week, but in the meantime, we want to share the scope of the existing debate around the pros and cons of new media for the under-13 set.

Here’s a little background: the main piece of legislation that has dealt with children’s safety online for the past decade is the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA). COPPA mandates specific requirements that web operators must adhere to for children under that age of 13 — namely requiring parental permission before collecting any personal information from children and not distributing the information to third parties. Standard stuff.

The bill was written over ten years ago, though, and technology has changed markedly in that time — social media, smartphones, and tablets have made COPPA both restrictive in some areas and inadequate in others. Amendments were proposed last year by the FTC to ease the way for parental authorization and to institute additional protections for location based and facial recognition technologies.

The FTC amendments were lauded by the internet community, who had long seen COPPA as a thorn in its side. The legislation, for instance, prevents children under the age of 13 from signing up for Facebook, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg said impedes the educational potential of social networking. Zuckerberg may not be the most impartial commentator on the issue, but he is not alone; plenty of others advocate for the educational possibilities of new technology.

Alan Simpson is one of those advocates. His argument? It doesn’t matter whether you think the internet is good or bad — It’s not going away. This is a world in which kids are growing up and media is a huge part of their lives. There are enormous positives that come out of that, and there are also things that you as a parent might decide are negative. The positives are pretty universal: the opportunities especially in education and learning that new media create for kids and adults are widespread. Giving people more tools to address the downsides — without dismissing the positives — allows parents to maintain the ability to be a filter without having to completely ban a technology which is an integral part of our lives now and will be even more so in 10, 20 years time when these kids are entering the workforce.

Look out for Simpson’s post here in the next couple days.