October 28, 2020

Bad Ideas: Raising The Arbitrarily Age Of Internet Service ‘Consent’ To 16

We all know various ideas for “protecting privacy online” are floating around Congress, but must all of them be so incredibly bad? Nearly all of them assume a world that doesn’t exist. Nearly all of them assume an understanding of “privacy” that is not accurate. The latest dumb idea is to expand COPPA — the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act — that was put in place two decades ago and has been a complete joke. COPPA’s sole success is in getting everyone to think that anyone under the age of 13 isn’t supposed to be online. COPPA’s backers have admitted that they used no data in creating and have done no research into the effectiveness of the law. Indeed, actual studies have shown that COPPA’s real impact is in having parents teach their kids its okay to lie about their age online in order to access the kinds of useful services they want to use.

The “age of consent” within COPPA is 13 — and that’s why a bunch of sites claim you shouldn’t use their site if you’re under that age. Because if a site is targeting people under that age, then it has to go through extensive COPPA compliance, which most sites don’t want to do. The end result: sites say “don’t sign up if you’re under 13” and then lots of parents (and kids) lie about ages in order to let kids access those sites. It doesn’t actually protect anyone’s privacy.

So… along comes Congress and they decide the way to better protect privacy online is to raise that “age of consent” to 16.

The “Preventing Real Online Threats Endangering Children Today Act” is sponsored by Republican Rep. Tim Walberg of Michigan and Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush of Illinois.

The legislation would also require parental consent before companies can collect personal data like names, addresses and selfies from children under 16 years old. That’s up from 13 years old under the 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

Because we all know that teenagers are always truthful online and, dang, are they going to totally love the idea that they need their parents’ permission to use 99% of the internet. That’s really going to solve the problems now, right?

Of course not. It’s just going to teach more kids to lie about their birth dates when they sign up for internet accounts. Or, alternatively, it will overly punish the few honest kids who refuse to sign up for accounts until they’re 16. But, hey, why should Congress care about that when they’re “protecting the children.”
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