Don't Talk to Strangers: An Analysis of Government and Industry Efforts to Protect a Child's Privacy Online
Hertzel, Dorothy A., Federal Communications Law Journal
Statistics reveal that approximately sixty-four million adults in the United States use the Internet.(1) Studies also indicate that nearly two-thirds of children have used the Internet.(2) In addition to being a valuable tool to those who use it, the Internet has created unique concerns for users, Internet providers, and lawmakers. Protecting a user's privacy while online is one such concern. A practice that implicates this concern is the collection, storage, and sale of an online user's personal information without that user's knowledge or consent. Such a practice is commonplace in the Internet world. A Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigation of 1402 Web sites in 1998 revealed that ninety-two percent of those Web sites collected personal information from their users, yet only a fraction notified the user on how that information would be used.(3) The relative ease with which Web sites collect personal information from online users is disconcerting. In fact, the Internet is said to have the "capacity to be the most effective data-collector in existence."(4) The practice of collecting and releasing or selling an online user's information becomes particularly troublesome when the user is not an adult but rather a child. Unfortunately, studies indicate that the solicitation of a child's personal information is dangerously common.(5)
Attempts to address the matter of a child's privacy online raise the question: Who is in the best position to properly and effectively protect a child's privacy online? This Note attempts to answer this question. Part II discusses the privacy concerns raised by both adults and children online. Part III discusses the recently enacted COPPA and the FTC's Rule implementing the legislation and whether such legislation will prove effective in protecting children online. Part IV discusses the role of the Internet industry in protecting children online and the value of technological tools available to protect against the unwanted solicitation of a child's personal information. After concluding that neither the government nor the Internet industry are in a sound position to secure children's privacy online, Part V proposes the necessary element to ensure that children can enjoy the benefits of the Internet safely.
II. PRIVACY CONCERNS
A. Information Collection
The Internet is unique among other communications mediums in the "variety and depth of personal information generated by its use."(11) The majority of personal information collected online is gathered by Web sites in one of two ways. First, a Web sites collect the user's personal information without the user's knowledge.(12) A user browsing the Web provides the Web site with certain personal information each time that person visits a site. …