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FTC relaxes COPPA rule so kids can issue voice searches and commands

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The COPPA rule prevents kids from having their personal information hoovered up and distributed online the way adults often consent to. Verifiable parental consent is required if that information is to be collected — but the FTC has just relaxed the rule just enough that common tasks like searches can be done for kids without risk to the operator.

The issue was that, under the current rules, any audio from a kid is considered as being “collected” — which isn’t a problem if it’s in the Sesame Street app or something, where parents will have already consented to its use. But what at some random time a kid is saying “call 911!” or trying to turn off the music? Should Amazon or Apple wait to get consent from the parents before carrying out these tasks?

In a guidance statement issued today, the FTC said “no,” cutting out simple interactions like this from the COPPA requirements.

The Commission recognizes the value of using voice as a replacement for written words in performing search and other functions on internet-connected devices. Verbal commands may be a necessity for certain consumers, including children who have not yet learned to write, or the disabled.

The rule remains the same, but the Commission won’t pursue any action against companies that collect the data, turn it into text for the purposes of tasks that don’t involve personal information, and then immediately delete it.

This is probably a load off the minds of the legal teams at dozens of companies, where technically their basic functionality was possibly illegal. As long as the data is handled properly, they won’t be in violation.

The FTC does add, however, that it’s not a free-for-all. The process of this collection and deletion must be well documented and consented to (at least via EULA). The companies can’t request personal data via voice (i.e. asking a kid’s name for a game or configuration) and they can’t use that window of legality to do anything else with the data other than convert it to text.

Featured Image: TechCrunch

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Zebra releases auto insurability score to reveal how badly you actually drive

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Everyone thinks they’re an excellent driver, but it’s just that auto insurance companies don’t treat them with the appropriate respect.

Well, The Zebra, the startup car insurance marketplace, just introduced a new tool called an insurability score to face folks with the cold hard facts of their truly terrible driving.

The tool lets drivers find out what data affects their insurance premiums, by how much and what they can do about it (probably, because it’s the insurance industry, nothing).

“For the 250 million drivers nationwide, auto insurance is both a major expense and a critical safeguard to protect them from disastrous events,” said Joshua Dziabiak, the founder and chief operating officer at The Zebra. “Until now, people have only been able to get rates from auto insurance companies, without any insight into what’s behind them, but they need to know what factors affect their individual risk, and what that means for their coverage and rates. Consumers have a lot more control over their car insurance than they might think.”

Auto insurance is opaque to me (I lived in New York for years and now that I’m in Los Angeles, I take Lyft when I need to go to meetings), but apparently most Americans are laboring under some serious misconceptions about their abilities behind the wheel.

The Zebra, which has raised over $63 million in funding, used some of those venture dollars it raised from Mark Cuban, Ballast Point Ventures, Accel Partners and Daher Capital to survey US drivers on a few things.

The results… as they say… will astound you.

It turns out although 81% say they have the car insurance they need, nearly all Americans don’t know what kinds of car insurance they need to have.

Only 21% scored a passing grade — above a “D” — based on their knowledge of factors which affect insurance rates.

There are roughly 40 factors that influence credit scores, including location, credit score, coverage history, highest level of education and marital status.

“At The Zebra, we’ve always prioritized making insurance ‘black and white’ and educating consumers, and these survey results reinforce that need for education more than ever before,” Dziabiak said. “Now with the Insurability Score, we’ve taken another step in personalizing that knowledge so consumers have a clear-cut and actionable way to positively impact their own insurance health.”

Featured Image: Bob Peterson/Getty Images

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Allbirds launches a kids shoe line called Smallbirds

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Trendy Silicon Valley shoe startup Allbirds introduced a new line for kids today called, of course, Smallbirds.

These couldn’t have come at a better time as I find myself looking at all things baby clothes and shoes these days (I’m pregnant, for those asking). The cute little, but limited edition shoes are for ages two to four and are an exact replica of it’s adult Wool Runner version, meaning each pair are made with the startup’s signature eco-friendly merino wool material.

“Given merino wool’s intrinsic qualities, it made complete sense to move in that direction,” cofounder Tim Brown said in a press release. “Plus, the naming options were just too good.”

The kids shoes are $55 a pair, which might be a bit pricey for babies but seem pretty average for kid’s shoes. Baby shoes on online kids clothes site Lenny Lemons average around $20, for instance. Nike brand baby shoes on DSW are closer to $40-45.

The shoes come in toddler’s sizes and are available in three colors: natural grey, Kea red and NZ blue. For a limited time, each purchase will be accompanied by a children’s book called ‘Sadie Shaves the Day,’ which cofounder Joey Zwillinger penned himself.

The launch seems timely as the holiday season is right around the corner. Dressing your kid up with a matching pair could also make for some adorable social media posts.

Parents can purchase the shoes online or in Allbirds’ San Francisco or New York City stores.

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