Over the past year, there’s been a renewed sense of urgency among lawmakers to rewrite parts of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA — a little-known law that protects children’s privacy online. COPPA has become increasingly important after high-profile cases against YouTube and TikTok, but the law is over 20 years old and lawmakers argue it needs a huge revamp to keep children safe on the internet as it is today.
On Thursday, a pair of bipartisan House lawmakers announced that they’d be introducing their own bill that would give parents the right to delete the data that companies have on their children and extend COPPA’s protections to older minors. The bill is called the “Preventing Real Online Threats Endangering Children Today,” or the PROTECT Kids Act, and was introduced by Reps. Tim Walberg (R-MI) and Bobby Rush (D-IL), as first reported by Axios.
The bill would make big updates to the law that’s already brought enormous changes to YouTube and TikTok and infuriated creators. In its settlement with YouTube, the FTC fined the company over $170 million and prohibited the company from running targeted ads on videos the agency could deem child-friendly. Many critics argued that this settlement didn’t go far enough, and if the PROTECT Kids Act was approved, YouTube and other online platforms would be under a lot more pressure than they already are to ensure children’s data remains safe online.
Under current law, COPPA only prohibits platforms from collecting the data of children under the age of 13. Under the PROTECT Kids Act, that age would be increased to 16. COPPA also doesn’t include precise geolocation and biometric information as part of its definition of “personal information.” This House bill would ban platforms from collecting those sensitive pieces of information from children as well. And if a parent wanted to remove their children’s data from a website, the company would have to provide some kind of delete feature for them to use.
The bill mirrors many of the protections offered under a Senate measure led by Sens. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Ed Markey (D-MA). The most significant difference is how the bills identify whether a platform knows that it’s collecting children’s data. The Markey-Hawley measure would revise COPPA’s “actual knowledge” standard. Under COPPA in its current form, companies can only be found in violation of the law if they’re proven to have known that children were using their app or site. The senators have sought to change that “actual knowledge standard” to a “constructive” one, basically saying that if a platform is operating under due diligence, they should know whether children access it.
The PROTECT Kids Act doesn’t go that far. If the bill is approved, it would instruct the FTC to conduct its own study on the “actual knowledge” standard and determine whether changes need to be made.