FTC Issues Privacy Guidance on Child Voice Recordings

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By Jimmy H. Koo

Companies won’t face Federal Trade Commission enforcement actions for failing to obtain parental consent before collecting children’s voice recordings, if they are collected only to replace written commands and kept briefly, the agency said Oct. 23.

Websites and online services aimed at children under 13 years of age are required under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) to get parental consent to collect, use, or disclose their children’s personal information. The FTC updated its COPPA rule in 2013, to include data such as pictures and video or audio files with children’s images or voices in its definition of personal information.

The FTC said in its policy enforcement statement that although the COPPA rule requires verifiable parental consent before collecting an audio recording, the agency recognized the “value of using voice as a replacement for written words in performing search and other functions on internet-connected devices.”

The commission said it won’t take enforcement action against companies that don’t get parental consent before collecting audio files “solely as a replacement of written words,” such as for search commands or to execute a verbal request.

“Although the clarification is fairly innocuous, it is useful in giving greater clarity to some businesses—particularly those that provide services related to voice on internet-connected devices—that were concerned about their COPPA compliance,” Elliot R. Golding, a data privacy and cybersecurity partner at Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP in Washington, told Bloomberg Law Oct. 23.

The commission said the updated policy doesn’t apply to voice requests for personal information such as names. Companies still need to provide a clear notice of its policies on data collection, use, and deletion in privacy policies, and can’t use the audio files for other purposes before destroying them, the FTC said.

Internet-connected devices, including in-home personal assistants, present a “new space” for regulators such as the FTC, and they are “learning to deal with it,” Gary Kibel, digital media, technology and privacy partner at Davis & Gilbert LLP in New York, told Bloomberg Law Oct. 23.

Kibel said there may be additional privacy-related issues, including devices recording and collecting voices of “casual users, such as guests.” This brings to light the limitations of what device manufacturers can reasonably do in light of this new medium, he said.

The FTC said that the 2013 update had “prompted some questions about the application of this requirement when a child’s voice is collected for the sole purpose of instructing a command or request.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jimmy H. Koo in Washington at jkoo@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Donald Aplin at daplin@bna.com

For More Information

Full text of the new policy statement is available at http://src.bna.com/tA0.

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