In recent years, there has been an increasing awareness among Americans of the vast amount of personal information being collected about them by companies and the government through their online activities. This may be what led Americans to grow concerned about the lack of transparency and control over how this information is being used, as well as the security of this data in the hands of these actors. Companies, like Facebook, have argued that collecting such data is necessary for making their products more relevant to their users, helping protect people from harm, and providing safe and secure products.
The collection of personal information by websites and online services continues to encroach more and more on the privacy of online users. Young individuals are especially vulnerable to these sorts of collections. In 2021, on average, 8- to 12-year-olds used about five and a half hours of screen media per day, an increase of almost an hour per day from 2019. If trends continue, kids younger and younger will be exposed to more and more media, opening up their online use to continued surveillance by companies and governments. And it is not uncommon for these kids to begin to regret their actions online.
Moreover, the vast majority of Americans remain unaware of the extent to which their online data is being collected, how it is being used, and who has access to it. This lack of knowledge may make them vulnerable to a variety of abuses from both private and public actors. Additionally, many Americans are not aware of the power they have to control the use of their personal information by these actors, including the right to opt-out of certain data collection practices or to request the deletion of their personal data.
Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act
This lack of awareness and control led Congress to enact the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in 1998. COPPA protects the online privacy of children under the age of 13 by regulating the collection and use of their personal information by websites and online services. COPPA requires website operators to obtain parental consent before collecting any personal information (such as name, address, email, or phone number) from children under 13. This gave parents more details about what information was being collected. What it did not provide was recourse for parents who wanted the information collected by these sites deleted.
Enter Senate Bill 395. Proposed in February of 2023, this bill seeks to strengthen and “amend the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 to give Americans the option to delete personal information collected by internet operators as a result of the person’s internet activity prior to age 13.”
Clean Slate for Kids Online Act
Enter Senate Bill 395. Proposed in February of 2023, this bill seeks to strengthen and “amend the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 to give Americans the option to delete personal information collected by internet operators as a result of the person’s internet activity prior to age 13.” This bill is currently awaiting sign-off from the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, before a potential vote on the Senate floor.
Dubbed the “Clean Slate for Kids Online Act,” it proposes to grant every American a broad right to have website operators delete information that was collected on them while they were under 13, even if a parent consented at the time to the data collection. Not only can they request the deletion of information that websites collected from them when they were kids, but they can also request deletion of information collected about them when they were kids, including information from data brokers and other indirect sources.
Across the country, children are using the internet for everything from school and research to connecting with friends. Many of these internet activities result in a continuous collection of their data and personal information. While COPPA requires notice and consent from the parents of these kids, those children themselves also deserve a fresh start once they are old enough to understand how their data is used online. This amendment to COPPA strengthens privacy protections by giving kids (and their parents) the opportunity to request the deletion of that information.
The Clean Slate for Kids Online Act would be administered by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which would be tasked with regulating websites and online services by requiring that they provide notice on their websites about how a person over 13 can “request the deletion of all personal information the operator has that was collected from or about the person when he or she was under age 13.” Once requested, the website would be required “to promptly delete all such information and provide confirmation of the deletion to the requestor in writing.”
If implemented, this bill will help give kids the “chance to request a clean slate once they are old enough to appreciate the nature of internet data collection.” Internet companies have profited from collecting an immense amount of personal data from us all, including children. That is, these companies use your data to “build a customer profile of you so they have a better understanding of who you are and what you’re interested in.”
Sponsors of this bill argue that personal data of kids should not be used to increase the profits of Big Tech. Granting those companies the authority to continue to benefit from such unregulated activities threatens the fundamental privacy of our young people and limits their ability to “safely learn and play during their online experience.” The proposed act here attempts to give those kids that chance.
Jacob Showers & Will Spain
Jacob Alexander Showers is a staff member on the North Carolina Journal of Law and Technology, and second-year law student from Las Vegas, Nevada. He graduated from Portland State University with a degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology. In his free time, he enjoys playing chess and walking with his dogs through the woods.
Will is originally from Montgomery, Alabama, and went to the University of Virginia, where he earned an undergraduate degree in Philosophy. He took two years off between undergrad and law school, during which he worked as a political field organizer and lived in the Rocky Mountain West for two ski seasons. He returned to school at UNC Law with the intention to become an environmental and natural resources attorney.