Earlier today, members of Congress and regulators gathered for a symposium on “The Impact of Media on the Health & Well-Being of Children.”   Participants included Congressman Edward Markey (D-MA), Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jon Leibowitz, Chairman, Federal Trade Commission, and Mignon Clyburn, Commissioner, Federal Communications Commission, as well as researchers and members of the public interest community.  In response to a question, Chairman Leibowitz informed the audience that the FTC expects to issue a revised Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”) Rule by “the end of the year and hopefully sooner.” 

During their remarks, Congressmen Markey and Wasserman Shultz each expressed support for the Do Not Track Kids Act of 2011 (H.R. 1895), which we have blogged about here.  The bill would expand privacy protections for minors under the age of 18, including a prohibition on the use of personal information for targeted marketing to minors and a requirement that website operators provide “eraser buttons” to enable the deletion of personal information shared publicly by minors.  Senator Blumenthal also indicated that he was supportive of the legislative proposal, which he described as “common sensical,” although he stated that there likely would be substantial concern among advertisers and other stakeholders about implementation issues.

Chairman Leibowitz added that the FTC has been supportive of Do Not Track across the board, not just with respect to children.  He explained that he perceives companies as being interested in protecting privacy, but that companies may fear being at a competitive disadvantage if they are more protective of privacy than their peers.  Accordingly, he indicated that he views Do Not Track as facilitating an industry-wide privacy program that companies will embrace.  

Senator Blumenthal emphasized the importance of having in place not only rules about when a company can intentionally share data, but also appropriate safeguards to protect personal information from unauthorized access.  He mentioned that he has introduced legislation, the Personal Data Protection and Breach Accountability Act of 2011 (S.1535), which would require companies to implement appropriate data security safeguards.  (We previously have discussed S. 1535 here.)  S. 1535 includes a provision authorizing private rights of action by consumers in the event of a violation, and Senator Blumenthal stated that he believes that private rights of action, not just FTC enforcement, should be a component of privacy and data security legislation.  Chairman Leibowitz noted that he supports providing the FTC civil penalty authority to fine those who fail to safeguard consumer data appropriately.

Researchers and health care professionals that participated in the panel discussions expressed the need for additional research―and funding to support such research―to help policymakers better understand the impact of marketing and media on children.  A third panel focused on the impact of media on body images for young women―a topic that Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz also discussed in her remarks.