Bulletins

No one on the FTC wants ed tech to go the way of other online services

The commissioners unanimously reminded ed tech providers to collect less data from kids and not to use it for ads.

A girl sits at a computer

The use of ed tech tools exploded during the pandemic.

Photo: Alfonso Di Vincenzo/KONTROLAB/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Federal Trade Commission on Thursday unanimously reminded providers of education technology to follow federal limits on the collection and use of kids' data in an attempt to ensure that common practices in the data economy don't become the norm in schools.


During its open meeting, the commission voted to approve a policy emphasizing that ed tech providers shouldn't collect more data on kids under 13 than they reasonably need for their services, can't use the data for advertising without parental consent and have to maintain appropriate security, among other measures.

In a statement, President Joe Biden, who had called for children's privacy protections in his State of the Union address, applauded the vote and said that "the agency will be cracking down on companies that persist in exploiting our children to make money."

The vote, which comes after the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the reliance on education technology, highlighted the bipartisan interest in protecting kids' privacy. The commissioners enunciated their worries about companies forcing parents to accept overly vast data collection so kids can do homework, firms getting sign-off only from schools for practices that go beyond students' work and the long-term retention of educational data for use in advertising or other commercial contexts.

Democratic Commissioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, who spoke about her daughter learning to read online during the pandemic, said she was glad that federal law requires parental consent for collecting kids' data, but praised the new FTC statement's reliance on the additional limits that the law places on companies' use and collection of kids' data even if they do have consent. "While I appreciate being in the driver's seat, I also understand that I actually can’t drive all the things that my children are doing on a day-to-day basis," she said. "There just aren’t enough hours in the day to do all of that micromanaging of my children’s use of technology."

While the policy closely follows existing law on kids' privacy, known as COPPA, the statement signaled that the commissioners are turning their attention to tools that kids may use every day and that parents rely on for their children's development.

In a separate vote, the commissioners also voted unanimously to seek public input on their stance that social media sites may not be providing sufficient tools to let influencers disclose endorsements and that other businesses may be violating advertising rules when they hide negative reviews.

The votes also represented one of the first public moves as a commissioner for Alvaro Bedoya. His confirmation earlier this month gave the FTC a Democratic majority that can begin to work on far-reaching enforcement actions and regulation of tech companies, as envisioned by the agency's chair, Lina Khan.

At the same time, the two Republican commissioners, who have criticized Khan's agenda as well as procedural changes she's put in place, went out of their way on Thursday to praise the process that went into some of the day's votes. All commissioners also highlighted the work of staff as surveys have revealed plummeting morale at the agency.

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Safwan Shah, PayActiv’s founder and CEO, is credited with coining the term "earned wage access," which has been criticized by consumer advocates as being potentially predatory, especially when it comes to workers who don’t make much money.

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Bulletins