FTC Sets Out How Kids' Apps Can Use Voice-Based Features under COPPA

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has indicated that operators of child-directed online services may permissibly offer voice search and similar features without first obtaining parental consent under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), provided that certain requirements are satisfied. In an “Enforcement Policy Statement” on COPPA released today, the FTC clarified that - while there is no pertinent exception to the requirements of its COPPA Rule - it would not bring an enforcement against an operator based on collection of an audio recording that captures a child’s voice where:

  • the recording is collected “solely as a replacement for written words” (e.g., voice search or verbal instructions);
  • the recording is maintained only long enough to complete that purpose and then is immediately deleted;
  • in its COPPA-mandated children’s privacy policy, the operator provides clear notice of its collection and use of voice recordings and its deletion policy;
  • the operator does not use the voice recording for any other purpose prior to deletion (e.g., user identification through voice recognition); and
  • the operator does not use voice features to request information that would itself be considered “personal information” under COPPA (e.g., no names, email address, etc.).

This is obviously helpful news, particularly for those who operate child-directed services on platforms where voice search is becoming de rigueur. However, those considering relying on this policy statement should be careful to ensure that they not only comply with the FTC’s requirements at the outset, but that they have in place monitoring procedures to confirm continued compliance going forward.