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FTC wants tighter online privacy rules for children

WASHINGTON — Seeking to further tighten rules on online collection or disclosure of children’s personal information, the Federal Trade Commission proposed restrictive requirements on Wednesday on companies and websites that target youths or that have young audiences.

The proposal expands restrictions that the commission originally proposed last fall after it found that regulations governing the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act had not kept up with advances in Internet technology.

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The commission’s proposals were released publicly after they were first disclosed by The Wall Street Journal.

If adopted by the commission, the proposed rules would dictate that both the operator of a website that is directed at children and any third-party advertising network or application — like a company that provides the software behind a chat function — would be responsible for complying with the child privacy law.

The act already requires Web companies to notify parents and obtain consent when personal information is collected from children under the age of 13. But the law, which took effect in 2000 — four years before the start of Facebook — did not envision the now-common practice of including add-ons on children’s’ sites. As written, the privacy act applies only to a website operator, but not to a third-party supplier of other functions, said Mary K. Engle, associate director of advertising practices at the FTC. ‘‘The proposal would close an apparent or possible loophole in the rule,’’ she said.

Other tweaks in the proposed rule would address sites that are used by both children and adults. Where the current rule treats all visitors as being under 13, the proposed rule would allow a website that attracts both children and adults to screen users by asking their age and applying the privacy protections only to those who say they are under 13.

Websites whose overall content is likely to attract children under 13 as their primary audience would be required to treat all users as children, even if the site attracted some teenagers and older users.

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