FTC Favors E-Z Online Consent

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The Federal Trade Commission wants to let operators of Web sites targeted toward kids continue using an easy e-mail option for obtaining required parental consent when the sites collect children’s personal information.

The email option is set to expire April 21 and the FTC wants the option to be maintained permanently. Under that option, web site operators that collect kids’ information solely for internal purposes need only obtain a parent’s consent via email and then issue a confirmatory email to the parent. Unless the email option is renewed, all web site operators that collect information from kids under 13 will be required to rely on more reliable and costly technology used to verify that the person providing consent actually is the child’s parent. Currently, only sites that share kids’ information with third parties are required to use the more costly measures.

When the FTC established today’s parent consent rules in 1999, the commission believed that “reasonable cost” methods of verifying parental consent soon would be widely available and decided the easier e-mail option should eventually be phased out. The email option was originally set to expire in April 2002 but received a three-year extension.

If the email option is not maintained, sites that collect information from kids will be required to implement at least one verification option such as, requiring a consent form to be printed out and returned by mail or fax, obtaining a parent’s credit card number, having a parent provide consent via a toll-free number, or using a digital certificate.

Comments on the FTC’s plan are due Feb. 14.

In addition to soliciting opinions on whether the simple email option should continue, the FTC asks commenters to give more specific thoughts on whether reliable and inexpensive verification measures will be available soon, whether maintaining the easy email option will discourage development of reasonable cost-verification measures, and whether elimination of the email option would affect how web site operators use information collected from children