The Federal Trade Commission approved changes to a video game industry self-regulatory program aimed at ensuring compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) Rule.

The Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) applied for approval of proposed modifications to its COPPA safe harbor program. The FTC’s COPPA Rule requires, among other things, that operators of commercial websites and online services directed to children under the age of 13, or general audience websites and online services that knowingly collect personal information from children under 13, must obtain parental consent before collecting, using, or disclosing any personal information from children under the age of 13. The FTC’s COPPA Rule includes a “safe harbor” provision that allows industry groups and others to ask the Commission to approve self-regulatory guidelines that implement the protections of the Rule. Companies that comply with an FTC-approved safe harbor program are exempt from agency enforcement action under the Rule.

Earlier this year, the FTC sought comment on ESRB’s proposed changes to its COPPA safe harbor guidelines. For example, ESRB proposed changes to its definition of “personal information and data” in light of recently issued Commission guidance about collection of audio recordings.

The FTC received five comments from individuals and consumer advocates. For example, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for Digital Democracy jointly recommended changes to ESRB’s proposal. Among their recommendations was that ESRB retain language from the existing program that defines street-level geolocation information as personal information and data, and include language that would make it a requirement – instead of a suggestion – to limit collection of “personal information and data.” Another commenter, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, called for other changes, including asking that the Commission reject a proposed change that would narrow ESRB’s definition of “child/children” to only U.S. residents. The revised guidelines approved by the Commission include a number of changes to address issues identified by commenters.

The Commission vote to approve the changes to ESRB’s COPPA safe harbor program was 5-0.
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