Chairman Rockefeller Remarks on Children's Privacy: New Technologies and the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act

April 29, 2010

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Thank you Senator Pryor for your outstanding work as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection. According to a recent study, children ages 2 through 11 make up 9.5 percent of online users. That’s nearly 16 million children, and the number is rapidly growing.

A decade ago, going online meant accessing the Internet on a computer in your home. Today, it also includes iPhones, portable games, and interactive TVs. As powerful and exciting as these new developments are, a changing world brings new risks. For instance, a recent survey found that the top five Internet searches by children under 13 were for the terms: “YouTube,” “Google,” “Facebook,” and two somewhat less decent terms that no parent would want their young child searching for on the web. Accessing these websites, whether they are well-known and popular or outright illegal, have enormous privacy implications that I fear parents are unaware of, and I know children do not understand.

Many companies are collecting personal information and monetizing it. This commercial practice has a particular impact on our children. We have a responsibility to understand this rapidly changing digital landscape and to give parents the tools they need to protect their children’s privacy.

In 1988, we passed the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or “COPPA”, requiring websites to get parents’ consent before collecting or using any personal information from children. Since then, the way children use the Internet has changed dramatically. Some online technologies that are nearly ubiquitous today did not even exist a few years ago. So in January, the FTC began an important effort to review its rules. But with such rapid change, I firmly believe Congress also must take a hard look at whether COPPA should be updated to cover new kinds of information and new businesses. I look forward to working with Senator Pryor in this examination.

I very much want to thank Microsoft and Facebook for testifying. I have to say that I am disappointed Apple and Google have declined to participate today. These two companies are at the forefront of technological developments in the online world. With this introductory hearing, we are starting an important public discussion with direct implications on children’s privacy. Apple and Google’s refusal to take part does not speak well of their commitment to working with Congress on this issue going forward.

I want to close by noting that children’s privacy is strongly connected to children’s safety, and I believe in my core that all children deserve special protections. Always. Period. It’s important not to conflate the two issues, but privacy and safety most certainly overlap. To parents, nothing is more important than protecting our children. Nothing. I am enormously alarmed by the rise in criminal behavior targeting children online, from “cyber-bullying” to adult predators. These frightening trends are directly connected to the fact that our children’s sensitive, personal information is being increasingly exposed to the public.

I look forward to continuing this important discussion and working together – Congress, the FTC, and online stakeholders – to make sure nothing comes before the safety and security of our children.