Wednesday, March 07, 2007

States consider age verification for social networking sites; FTC issues report on COPPA


Fox5 DC (Channel 5 in Washington DC) reported tonight that Connecticut has passed legislation requiring that social networking sites verify ages of minors (residing in its state) and obtain parental consent of persons who sign up with profiles. The story reported that up to twenty other states were considering similar legislation.

It is not clear whether this could affect other sites, for example those with message boards, such as those run by media companies (CW). There are profiles on these sites too, even though generally they don't attract as much controversy. Theoretically, any blogger who accepts comments could be required to verify the ages of posters. Similar concerns could exist for those who host activity by others in any fashion. Generally, the law has tended not to hold hosting companies responsible for content posted by users, and this sets up a dangerous legal "brother's keeper" type precedent.

The details on all of this are murky, and will surely develop with more specificity soon.

In fact, on Feb 27 2007 the Federal Trade Commission issued a report admitting that "age falsification" is relatively easy, and that issue, as we know, came up repeatedly in the COPA trial in Philadelphia (where age verification would provide a defense for "harmful to minors" material posting by commercial sites). The FTC was trying to offer general support for the 1998 law known as COPPA (the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act), which should not be confused with COPA. The AP story appeared in BusinessWeek.com here.

A related permanent posting on other COPA-like legislation (and the group "Enough Is Enough") appears here.

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