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FTC announces crackdown on education companies that track children online

The agency is taking a stronger stand to protect children's privacy

Virtual or e-learning concept
Photo (c) Marko Geber - Getty Images
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is taking a giant leap forward in the protection of children's privacy. The agency announced on Monday that it will strengthen the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by cracking down on any education technology company that monitors children illegally.

The FTC’s new policy statement reinforces that it is illegal for companies to force parents and schools to surrender their children’s privacy rights in order to do schoolwork online or attend class remotely. The agency says companies also cannot deny children access to educational technologies when their parents or school refuse to sign up for commercial surveillance.  

“Students must be able to do their schoolwork without surveillance by companies looking to harvest their data to pad their bottom line,” said Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

“Parents should not have to choose between their children’s privacy and their participation in the digital classroom. The FTC will be closely monitoring this market to ensure that parents are not being forced to surrender to surveillance for their kids’ technology to turn on.”

Protecting children's privacy

The specific modifications that the FTC added to COPPA include:

Prohibitions Against Mandatory Collection: Companies cannot require children to provide more information than is reasonably needed for participation in an activity.

Use Prohibitions: Ed tech providers that collect personal information from a child with the school’s authorization are prohibited from using the information for any other commercial purpose including marketing or advertising. 

COPPA was first launched in 2000, and the FTC has used it to protect children's privacy since then. The agency previously imposed a fine on Toysmart.com for collecting and selling children's personal data. It also began a probe of YouTube and accused the platform of not doing enough to protect children who use the service.

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