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5 Things Parents Need to Know about COPPA Act


By Ivana Drakic, July 16, 2015

As if the list of parental responsibilities was not already long enough, digital world added one more: taking care of online kids’ safety. On the road to fulfill this quest, parents will be faced with many potholes and crossroads. They will need reliable information to help them make smart decisions. One of the things they have to carry in their backpacks is the basics of COPPA Act.

What is COPPA and who is responsible for its implementation?

COPPA Act or Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act is a US Federal law, which applies to the nation as a whole and to all 50 states since 2000. FTC – Federal Trade Commission has the authority to issue regulations and enforce COPPA.

What does it do to protect kids?

COPPA strives to protect all Internet users younger than 13 online by setting up rules for website operators regarding their privacy policies. It requires websites to seek permission from children’s parents or guardians before giving out their personal data. For some websites, like some of the most popular social networking websites (Facebook, Twitter), it is easier and simpler to restrict children under 13 to create their own accounts than to comply with COPPA’s rules on parental consent.

How did COPPA cope with the evolving changes in the digital world?

COPPA can’t be permitted to be out-of-date; changes are regularly implemented to answer to new challenges. In 2011, it was changed to ensure even greater protection of children’s data by imposing rules on data retention and deletion. This means that children’s data can only be kept for the amount of time necessary to achieve the purpose that it was collected for and has to be deleted afterwards.

During the following year, FTC announced worrying data about data collection by mobile apps and how the lack of transparency by app creators deepens this issue. In February, the FTC’s overall finding was that “little or no information was available to parents about the privacy practices and interactive features of the mobile apps surveyed prior to download”. FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a statement

Right now, it is almost impossible to figure out which apps collect data and what they do with it. The kids’ app ecosystem needs to wake up, and we want to work collaboratively with industry to help ensure parents have the information they need.

In December FTC announced that most of the mobile apps still fail to inform parents about the data which is being collected from their kids. The report found that “many apps included interactive features or shared kids’ information with third parties without disclosing these practices to parents.” It was time for revisions.

The number of kids accessing Internet via mobile phones is increasing constantly and COPPA had to be amended to face the challenges of the mobile realm. In 2013, it expanded the list of data which apps can’t collect from kids without parental consent to include: children’s geolocation data, photographs, videos and audio recordings from mobile devices. Also, they introduced rules to forbid apps’ developers from collecting their personal information through third-party apps or plugins without their parents’ approval.

Which websites suffered so far because of COPPA?

A number of websites suffered because for not complying with COPPA Act.

FTC imposes extensive fines on enterprises for COPPA violations. Some websites were fined because they were allowing children under 13 to sign up without parent’s consent. In 2006, some of these include: Xanga ($1 million), UMG Recordings, Inc. ($400,000), Kidswirl, Skid-e-Kids and Imbee.

Sony Music experienced one of the biggest FTC’s fines ever levied against a company. In 2008, Sony Music agreed to pay $1 million to settle allegations that it knowingly collected and disclosed personal information of as many as 30,000 children under the age of 13. It was. The lawsuit alleges that, since 2004, at least 30,000 children under age of 13 had registered on Sony’s music websites, and that Sony had “actual knowledge” that it was breaching the law.

One of the latest examples happened in 2013. Path, the social networking service for mobile devices, has reached a settlement with the FTC on alleged violations of COPPA. As part of the settlement, the company had to pay a fine of $800,000 and had to remove about 3,000 accounts from the network.

Is COPPA an effective approach?

While some think it’s not, I think its effectiveness relies a lot on parents. Yes, kids can actually get around the consent process by lying about their age, or get bored with the process of getting consent and move to less appropriate Internet content. But, this is where parents should jump in and educate children about the importance of online safety and their role in it. It is important to be aware that there are a lot of websites that are compliant with COPPA and intended for kids under 13; those are the websites you should direct your children’s’ interest on. Some of the examples include: Disney’s Club Penguin, Marimba, and Jet, and there are many more.

Got some examples of your own? Share them with other parents in the comments! Of course, share them with your children first. 🙂

Image Credits: Steve Snodgrass, Thomas Nemcsek


Author:

Ivana Drakic

Ivana is a political scientist by vocation and a dancer by heart. She loves to be around geeky people. This mixture explains her interests in technologies, data, writing, research.

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