California Forum

Trump is letting companies spy on your children. Protect their internet privacy.

Juliana Sanchez plays with a children’s program on her parent’s cell phone. A California bill, Assembly Bill 375, would offset the rollback of safeguards by the Trump administration, and protect children’s internet privacy.
Juliana Sanchez plays with a children’s program on her parent’s cell phone. A California bill, Assembly Bill 375, would offset the rollback of safeguards by the Trump administration, and protect children’s internet privacy. TNS

With a stroke of a pen shortly after taking office, President Donald Trump reversed internet policies that were intended to keep broadband providers from infringing on your child’s privacy.

The legislation that Trump signed in April repeals broadband privacy protections approved during the waning days of the Obama administration. Those rules would have required broadband service providers get opt-in consent before using information collected about what kids and families do online for non-service purposes, such as selling and sharing the data, or using it to profile or market to kids and families.

California has an opportunity to take matters into its own hands. Legislation by Assemblyman Ed Chau, D-Monterey Park, seeks to ensure that California protects kids’ online privacy while offering basic protections to all broadband Internet users. Indeed, to protect kids, we need to protect everyone, as their information is inherently mixed in with all other information on the internet.

We all expose information about ourselves online, sometimes on purpose, and sometimes without realizing. Teens, in particular, share constantly and unintentionally, without thinking through the consequences.

Kids are vulnerable to targeted marketing, whether from fast food restaurants they might pass while on the school bus, educational technology companies that provide services in schools, and from other advertisers and media and tech companies eager to turn kids’ data into profits, such as augmented-reality games that lure kids to popular eateries and other businesses, a move Pokémon Go is taking with Starbucks, Sprint, and others.

Parents rightly fear that this may come back and haunt their kids later in life, as they apply to colleges or jobs or try to secure an apartment.

Common Sense Media long has fought for strong rules to protect young people online, including rules that protect and empower kids on child-directed and other commercial sites, or on ed-tech apps and scholarship companies that ask personal, sensitive questions only to turn that information over to marketers.

California has led in this area, passing the Student Online Personal Information Protection Act, which in 2015, placed basic limits on the use of data collected in schools. In 2013, California also passed Eraser Button legislation, requiring sites to allow people younger than 18 to remove their own postings, and to clearly inform minors how to do so.

California must show once again that it embraces a different set of values from those we see coming from Congress and the Trump administration. As we have in the past, we can lead the nation in passing strong measures that will keep kids and their personal information safe.

Chau’s Assembly Bill 375, the California Broadband Internet Privacy Act, would ensure parents are notified and have agreed to opt in before kids and teens – or parents themselves – are commercially tracked and targeted by broadband providers.

The bill is based on the notion that kids, parents, and consumers should have basic control over their personal information, and should be able to decide who has access to it and who does not. By adopting rules that promote the notion of personal privacy, we can help foster a culture and business climate that values personal privacy.

Chau’s bill is not radical. In fact, it is quite conservative. It advances the notion that we are responsible for helping to protect children, and it would offer us all a measure of control over our own personal information.

As technology becomes an even larger part of our lives, all we ask is that companies, including broadband providers, act with some basic caution and transparency in any collection and use of minors’ personal information. We urge legislators to stand up for our collective rights, and to lead the way, for our kids.

James P. Steyer is founder and CEO of Common Sense Kids Action, an advocacy group in San Francisco. He can be contacted at jim@commonsensemedia.org.

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