NEWS4 January 2012

Coppa proposals ruffle MRA

Government North America

US— Proposed changes to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (Coppa), including plans to revoke the “email plus” option of obtaining parental consent, have raised concerns within the Marketing Research Association (MRA).

Government affairs director Howard Fienberg has written to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the body responsible for enforcing the Coppa rules, to say that the removal of “email plus” and the requirement for new methods of obtaining verifiable parental consent “would certainly be a jarring and costly adjustment for the research profession”.

Coppa requires website operators to gain parental consent for the collection of data from children under 13, but MRA also recommends that survey and opinion researchers apply the principles in their dealings with anyone under the age of majority – that is 18 in most states – as a best practice.

Fienberg notes that the previous “sliding sale approach” to consent allowed sites to use “less meticulous consent methods” if information was being collected for internal purposes only. In such instances, consent could be sought by sending an e-mail message to a parent along with additional steps, such as a delayed follow-up email or a letter by post or a phone call to confirm that the parent had indeed given their consent.

But the FTC believes “email plus” has “outlived its usefulness” and that continued reliance on it “has inhibited the development of more reliable methods of obtaining verifiable parental consent”.

Fienberg argues however that “email plus happens to be the most effective and affordable approach for parental consent verification at this time and it is not clear that simply rescinding that option will automatically result in greater and better ones coming along”.

He also expresses concern about new requirements for data collectors to have to vouch for the data security arrangements of third-parties, which the MRA believes might prove difficult for smaller organisations to adhere to.