Advertising, Cyberlaw, Facebook, Free Speech, FTC, Kids, Privacy

Facebook Protests Proposed Child Privacy Rule Revisions on Scuzzy Free Speech Grounds

We’ve mentioned the proposed changes to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule before, which are currently under consideration by the FTC. The changes to COPPA, as it’s known for short, would require sites that collect personal information from children to secure written parental consent first. On first glance, it seems like a slam dunk: why wouldn’t we want to protect children’s privacy, and maybe put a dent in the absurd amount of tracking that constantly happens whenever anyone goes online?

Oh right, I forgot one little detail: free speech!

Facebook is protesting parts of the rule, because the company says it would restrict the free speech of pre-teens who want to “like” articles online. Because heaven forbid children who technically aren’t even supposed to use Facebook have to voice approval in a manner that doesn’t involve clicking a little blue thumbs-up button….

The Bits blog of the New York Times explains the 20-page letter Facebook sent to the FTC, arguing that “child privacy laws should not apply to a Web site’s ability to incorporate a ‘like’ button, because that would inhibit free expression.”

Really? Please, do explain:

A “like” counts as free speech, the company has repeatedly argued, and muzzling a user’s ability to “like” something on Facebook would infringe on a user’s constitutional rights. “A government regulation that restricts teens’ ability to engage in protected speech — as the proposed Coppa Rule would do — raises issues under the First Amendment,” Facebook wrote in its letter.

Come on. That’s like telling a child to go inside because it’s bedtime and then getting accused of unlawful imprisonment.

Besides, as I understand it, if a child feels SO STRONGLY about how much she loves likes some cute bunny video, she could still log onto Facebook, and, like, post the link on her Facebook page. Or post it on Pinterest, or Twitter, or just tell her mom in person: “Hey Mom, bunnies are cute. I want one for my birthday.”

So why does Facebook all of a sudden care so voraciously about First Amendment rights of pre-teens? Money, plus the ability to track its users, duh. (In fairness, ad dollars do pay our rent and keep the lights on here at ATL.) The “Like” button, which Bits reports is integrated into more than nine million web sites, lets Facebook know each time someone goes on a page with a “like” button, even if he doesn’t click on it — a.k.a., it eliminates exactly the privacy that the new rule would protect.

Well, boys, it looks like we’ve got ourselves a Mexican standoff.

Facebook Says Child Privacy Laws Should Not Apply to ‘Like’ Buttons [Bits / New York Times]
Facebook Letter to the FTC [Federal Trade Commission]

Earlier: Quote of the Day: Yes, We Should Probably Go Ahead and Do That

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