Children’s online privacy work group provides legislation ideas -- Gazette.Net


A work group looking at children’s online privacy proposed Maryland pass a law that requires an “eraser button” that would enable children to delete online posts they regret.

“Teenagers don’t always have the best judgment. That’s just the way teenagers are,” said Angela Campbell, co-director of the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University Law Center.

Campbell is a member of the Workgroup on Children’s Online Privacy Protection, which proposed 10 informal recommendations Monday.

Some websites already allow children to make these kinds of erasures envisioned in the proposal, said Steve Ruckman, a work group co-chairman. California has passed a similar law.

“The goal is to codify that so that it’s not just a best practice among the best players,” he said.

Campbell said she thinks it’s important to create legislation that would ensure kids keep that ability and not just “at the whim” of an industry group.

The 2013 legislative session created the work group, which includes 18 members from state government, companies such as AOL and Facebook, consumer advocates, the Federal Trade Commission and the Council of Better Business Bureaus, among others.

The majority of the Dec. 30 report’s proposed recommendations relate to possible legislative action. One proposal would prohibit cloud service providers from using data they collect in the state’s public schools for commercial purposes.

Ruckman — who is also director of the Internet privacy unit at the Maryland Attorney General’s Office — said the group found that such data usage is sometimes permitted in contracts between schools and providers.

The idea behind the proposal, Ruckman said, was “to head off the possibility of that being put into use in a broad way.”

Another recommendation would require entities that collect data from or about children to encrypt that data. Encryption is already considered a best practice, Ruckman said.

“Encryption technology is getting better and cheaper all the time,” he said.

Other legislation proposed within the work group would require that online entities collect only the information they need from children and teens in Maryland.

Ruckman said the current “default mode of thinking” is to collect a variety of information and later extract the useful data.

The work group’s proposals also included suggestions for improved advertising labeling or general limitations.

One proposal said a law might require advertisements targeted toward children to be more clearly labeled or distinguishable from non-advertisement content.

Cambell said she thinks a “huge problem” exists in the form of advertising targeted at children that does not look like advertising, a practice she says is unfair.

Children don’t have the same capacity as adults to be critical of a possible advertisement, she said.

Some work group members also proposed the General Assembly consider limitations on what can be advertised to children online.

Ruckman said the thought behind the proposal was to take what has been learned from children’s exposure to print and television advertisements to consider what is appropriate when it comes to the Internet.

Maryland might also be in need of an update to its definition of “personal information,” according to another work group proposal.

Two other proposed recommendations would develop education efforts to increase awareness of existing privacy tools or enhance ongoing efforts in the state Attorney General’s Office to improve children’s online privacy.