On August 24, 2022, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC or Commission) submitted a report to the Congressional Committees on Appropriations detailing current resources and personnel dedicated to COPPA enforcement, the number of COPPA violation investigations over the past five years, and the types of relief obtained in completed investigations. The report was submitted in response to a request by Congress under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2022.
The FTC report affirms that protecting children’s privacy remains a Commission priority. The COPPA program is served by 9-11 full-time, dedicated staff members; staff from other divisions, such as the Bureau of Consumer Protection’s Division of Privacy and Identity Protection, also work on COPPA issues. Between May 1, 2017 and May 1, 2022, the FTC opened 80 investigations of potential COPPA violations. Over the last five years, the Commission has expanded its remedies, such as requiring WW International/Kurbo to delete its proprietary algorithms, or mandating that Google/YouTube re-review apps on its ad exchange to identify and ban additional child-directed apps and to track which apps and websites have been banned or removed from its platform. Requiring companies to implement a comprehensive privacy program, often subject to periodic, independent monitoring, is an increasingly frequent element in enforcement agreements.
The Commission has also imposed larger fines for COPPA violations. The FTC reports that “in six of the 10 cases alleging violations of COPPA, the Commission obtained a civil penalty of at least $1.5 million,” including a $170 million fine in the Google/YouTube matter, “one of the largest civil penalties ever obtained, worldwide, for a privacy violation.”
The report ends with a plea for additional funding from Congress: “The Commission makes every effort to use its resources efficiently: as noted in recent testimony, ‘for FY 2021, every $1 of the FTC’s cost returned an estimated $36 in FTC-provided benefits to consumers.’ With more resources, however, the FTC could do more.”
On a related note, the FTC has extended its comment period for its upcoming workshop on Protecting Kids From Stealth Advertising in Digital Media to be held October 19, 2022. The new deadline for interested parties to submit comments is now November 18, 2022.