The White House focuses on children's privacy

  • by Arlo Gilbert
  • · posted on March 3, 2022
  • · 3 min read
The White House focuses on children's privacy

“It’s 10 PM. Do you know where your children are?”

That phrase was the friendly nudge that parents across America received each evening for more than twenty years while watching TV at night. That public service announcement is a window into a simpler time, a time when being a good parent meant that you kept the liquor cabinet locked and knew whether your children were at home.

Fast forward to 2022, and any parent reading this probably gets a good chuckle answering that question. Knowing where your children are is usually as simple as opening the Find My app. As the Internet and smartphones have become an integral part of our daily lives, the question is no longer “Where are they?” but rather “What content are they producing, consuming, via which platforms, and with whom is it being shared?”.

As the coolest Dad you’ve ever met (please don’t ask my teenage daughter to verify that claim) of three kiddos ranging in ages from one to twenty, I can tell you with absolute certainty that whatever you think your children are doing online, you’re often wrong. No matter what parental controls you have in place, keeping kids safe online has become a game of whack-a-mole, and the kids are always a few steps ahead.

In theory, COPPA, aka the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act enacted in 1998, was supposed to help parents protect their children online. In practice, COPPA has largely been ignored, and for good reason. In the last decade, the FTC has filed a total of sixteen enforcement actions. Put another way, your odds of being struck by lighting are significantly more frightening than your odds as a business of being on the receiving end of an enforcement action under COPPA. Not only has enforcement been rare, but how most companies comply is hardly protecting kids. TikTok, as an example, requires new users to state that they are over the age of 13. This is akin to the convenience store clerk asking if you are 21 when buying beer but not asking for ID.

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Social media access by children and teens has been consistently linked in study after study to increased rates of depression and suicide. And don’t even get me started on the trail of personal data and embarrassing teenage hijinx that will follow this generation forever.

So as a dad, a technologist, and a privacy advocate, I was delighted to read that the White House is working on a policy to strengthen children’s privacy online and ban targeted advertising for children. Even though adults don’t yet get any meaningful federal privacy protections in the USA, maybe, just maybe, this is the tipping point for the federal privacy regulations that we so desperately need.

Perhaps a more appropriate question for all of the parents reading is: It's 2022. Do you know where your children's data is?

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About The Author · Arlo Gilbert

Arlo Gilbert is the CEO & co-founder of Osano. An Austin, Texas native, he has been building software companies for more than 20 years in categories including telecom, payments, procurement, and compliance. In 2005 Arlo invented voice commerce, he has testified before congress on technology issues, and is a frequent speaker on data privacy rights.