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Facebook wants 'Like' button to be exempt from child privacy laws

Social network tells the FTC that teens' right to freedom of expression will be inhibited by proposed revisions to COPPA.

Facebook's "like" sign at its Silicon Valley headquarters. Facebook

Facebok worries that teens' right to freedom of expression will be inhibited if child privacy laws limit the ability of Web sites to incorporate the social network's "Like" button.

In a 20-page letter (PDF) sent to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission last week, Facebook objected to proposed revisions to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA. The social network argues that revised limitations on plug-ins could create "significant impediments" on "innovation and the ecosystem that shapes students' online experiences":

This social functionality, widely used by educational sites and apps, is dependent on plugins and could be threatened by a COPPA Rule that renders plugin providers responsible for the actions and motives of third parties and vice versa. Part of the value of many educational sites and services is that they are offered for little or no cost, which means that they often will not have the resources to meet burdensome compliance obligations. Requiring these sites or services and plugin providers to monitor each others' information practices could result in the eradication of integrated plugins and the powerful features they facilitate.
Facebook also argued that a "Like" on the social network is free speech and that eliminating teens' access to the button would be a violation of their constitutional rights.

"A government regulation that restricts teens' ability to engage in protected speech -- as the proposed COPPA Rule would do -- raises issues under the First Amendment," the company said.

COPPA requires that Web sites obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting personal information from children younger than 13. While current Facebook rules prohibit teenagers younger than 13 from using the network, it's widely known that millions of young children have Facebook accounts.

The commission has proposed clarifying COPPA rules (PDF) to include not only Web sites, but other "online services" such as mobile apps, network-connected games, and text messages. The FTC has also proposed a more expansive definition of personal information to include IP addresses, device identifiers, and geolocation information.