FTC Warns Ed Tech Outfits of Children’s Right to Online Privacy


As technology becomes more of a part of student learning, education technology (ed tech) companies, parents and educators need to stay informed about children’s privacy rights under COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act). To help with this, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently released a policy statement regarding online learning. He also issued a warning that he plans to crack down on companies that illegally monitor children on online platforms.

Recent developments prompting to seek advice

COPPA applies to operators of websites that target children under 13 or have actual knowledge that children under 13 are providing personal information. Since its enactment, the FTC has made a conscious effort to update COPPA to be in tune with society. In 2013, the FTC expanded COPPA to address the growing use of mobile devices, apps, and social media. It also expanded the rule to hold accountable third parties that operate child-directed sites and collect personal information about children. Now, according to the FTC, two developments informed its recent policy statement on education technology and COPPA (policy statement): (1) the introduction of education technology devices into the classroom; and (2) ever-increasing technologies that monetize the collection of personal information. While the edtech industry has come up with innovative online learning solutions in light of the ongoing pandemic, amassing benefits that allow students to learn from the comfort of their homes in a spirit of security, the increasingly rigorous collection of data on children raises questions about the privacy of children. and what information these companies collect. Simply put, the ongoing pandemic has produced an unprecedented immersion in children’s learning, technology, and privacy rights in school and other educational settings.

The policy statement

As the FTC has always maintained that child-directed platforms are entities covered by COPPA, this policy statement recalls that these rules apply not only to mobile games and websites with cartoons, but also to educational technology platforms that collect information from children for an educational purpose.

In setting out the recent policy statement, the FTC focuses on a few areas: (1) limitations on the use of personal information collected from children under 13 with school permission for commercial purposes, including marketing or advertising, (2) retention limitations, including that personal information should not be retained longer than necessary to fulfill the purpose for which it was collected, and (3) the requirements of security. All of these requirements apply to all entities covered by COPPA. That said, with more educational technology being used in the classroom with permission often granted by school authorities on behalf of parents, it’s a strong reminder that the rules still apply and additional limitations apply as well.

Additionally, the Policy Statement cautions against forcing students to disclose information through mandatory collection tactics. Thus, companies covered by COPPA should also avoid denying children access to education technology when they refuse to register for commercial surveillance. These companies should also avoid illegally monitoring online learning, as the FTC has explicitly stated that it plans to “crack down” on illegal monitoring of children learning online. In short, according to the FTC, children shouldn’t have to give up their right to privacy in order to learn.

Main Takeaway

The policy statement is a warning and reminder to all operators of websites that collect information from children under 13, and in particular education technology companies, with the FTC stating that a ” repression” is on the horizon. While the FTC previously enforced COPPA in relation to children’s mobile applications, including those intended for education, many viewed past enforcement actions as actions taken for the personal use of websites and technology intended for children. children. This recent policy statement reminds website operators that the rules also apply in the school context. Please find the policy statement here.

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