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Andrew Smith Must Recuse Himself From Revisions to FTC’s Online Children’s Privacy Protections

Groups Flag Numerous Conflicts of Interest, Evidence of Bias in ‘Desert of Crap’ Remarks

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Andrew Smith, director of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Bureau of Consumer Protection, should recuse himself from any discussions about or decisions regarding revisions to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), six groups said in a letter sent to the agency today.

“It will be impossible for the American people to have faith in the FTC’s COPPA review process if Mr. Smith maintains a central role in it,” the letter reads.

In July, the FTC requested comments on dozens of questions about the current and future operation of COPPA, raising fears that the agency is trying to weaken the law and put children at greater risk. Smith validated these concerns at a Better Business Bureau conference in September when he said the FTC was worried YouTube would become a “desert of crap” without behaviorally targeted ads, to which children are uniquely vulnerable. Smith’s remarks, reflecting industry talking points, show that he has prejudged the issues to be considered in the COPPA rulemaking and that he is more worried about protecting big tech profits than children, the groups believe.

In addition, conflict of interest rules prohibit Smith from making decisions about or even discussing 120 companies, many of which base their business on behavioral advertising, such as Facebook and Twitter, and many of which target children, such as Disney. However, these rules don’t prohibit him from working on general policy matters – even if they are a top priority of the companies he once represented. Due to the extraordinary breadth of conflicts involving many big tech and data companies, Smith should be recused from rulemaking matters affecting them, including revisions to COPPA, the groups maintain.

The groups that signed the letter are the Center for Digital Democracy, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Media Alliance, the Revolving Door Project, the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy and Public Citizen.

Read the letter here.