ANN ARBOR -- The Internet is full of information, but also full of real risks for children, like online predators or the pitfalls of losing privacy when kids share too much information. In a new University of Michigan poll, the majority of the public supports updating federal laws that require Internet safety standards to protect kids.
The University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health recently asked adults nationwide about Internet use and proposed changes to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, known as COPPA.
COPPA was enacted to protect young children from some of these Internet dangers by prohibiting collection of personal information through websites if the user is under age 13. But COPPA was written in 1998, before the dawn of smartphones, applications and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.
The Federal Trade Commission is considering updating COPPA to reflect technology advances in the past decade.
The poll found that two-thirds of adults think children should be at least 13 years old to use the Internet on their own. But 29 percent of the parents with children age 9 to 12 said their children have their own handheld Wi-Fi enabled devices, which may mean children are online and unsupervised.
Although social networking sites like Facebook restrict access to users under age 13, 18 percent of parents polled said their children age 9-12 have their own social networking profile.
So it's not surprising that adults think COPPA needs updating, says Matthew M. Davis M.D., M.A.P.P., director of the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health.
"For parents, COPPA may be the most important piece of federal legislation you've never heard of," said Davis, who is also associate professor of pediatrics and internal medicine at the UM Medical School and associate professor of public policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.
"So much has changed in the 14 years since COPPA was enacted: Facebook, Twitter and other social networks, along with applications. This report underscores the concerns among the general public to make sure proper safeguards are enacted to protect kids."
The Federal Trade Commission has suggested updating COPPA to reflect technology advances in the past decade, and this fall sought comments on proposed revisions.
In the poll, most adults expressed strong support for the proposed updates. The poll found that 60 percent of adults expressed strong support for prohibiting websites and applications designed for kids from collecting personal information of children under age 13.
The respondents showed similarly strong support to require websites and apps to ask users to confirm they are at least 13 years old and to require cell phone service providers and app developers to comply with COPPA regulations for users under age 13.
"Updating COPPA is a start, but parents must realize the digital landscape is continually evolving," says Davis. "It is important that parents play a key role in protecting their children online. With so many young children using the Internet every day, parents must talk to their kids about Internet safety and help teach them to identify and avoid dangerous situations."
This report presents findings from a nationally representative household survey conducted exclusively by GfK Custom Research LLC for C.S. Mott Children's Hospital via a method used in many published studies. The survey was administered in September 2012 to a randomly selected, stratified group of adults (n=2,137) from GfK's web-enabled KnowledgePanel that closely resembles the U.S. population. The sample was subsequently weighted to reflect population figures from the Census Bureau. The survey completion rate was 60 percemt among panel members contacted to participate. The margin of error is +/- 2 to 8 percentage points.
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