Children's Online Privacy Protection Act
|Effective||April 21, 2000|
|Part of the Politics series on|
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has the authority to issue regulations and enforce COPPA. Also under the terms of COPPA, the FTC designated "safe harbor" provision is designed to encourage increased industry self-regulation. Under this provision, industry groups and others may request Commission approval of self-regulatory guidelines to govern participants' compliance, such that website operators in Commission-approved programs would first be subject to the disciplinary procedures of the safe harbor program in lieu of FTC enforcement. As of 17 May 2013, the FTC has granted safe harbor to six companies: Aristotle, Inc., PRIVO, TRUSTe, ESRB, CARU, and iKeepSafe.
In September 2011, the FTC announced proposed revisions to the COPPA rules, the first significant changes to the Act since its rules were issued in 2000. The proposed rule changes expand the definition of what it means to "collect" data from children. The new rules would also present a data retention and deletion requirement, which would mandate that data that is obtained from children is only kept for the amount of time necessary to achieve the purpose that it was collected for and also add the requirement that operators ensure that any third parties to whom a child's information is disclosed have reasonable procedures in place to protect the information.
The Act applies to websites and online services operated for commercial purposes that are either directed to children under 13 or have actual knowledge that children under 13 are providing information online. Most recognized non-profit organizations are exempt from most of the requirements of COPPA. However, the Supreme Court ruled that non-profits operated for the benefit of their members' commercial activities are subject to FTC regulation and consequently also COPPA. The type of "verifiable parental consent" that is required before collecting and using information provided by children under 13 is based upon a "sliding scale" set forth in a Federal Trade Commission regulation that takes into account the manner in which the information is being collected and the uses to which the information will be put.
The FTC has brought a number of actions against website operators for failure to comply with COPPA requirements, including actions against Girl's Life, Inc., American Pop Corn Company, Lisa Frank, Inc., Mrs. Field's Cookies, and Hershey Foods. In September 2006, the FTC levied substantial fines on several enterprises for COPPA violations. The website Xanga was fined US$1 million for COPPA violations, for repeatedly allowing children under 13 to sign up for the service without getting their parent's consent. Similarly, UMG Recordings, Inc. was fined US$400,000 for COPPA violations in connection with a Web site that promoted the then 13-year-old pop star Lil' Romeo, and hosted child-oriented games and activities, and Bonzi Software, which offered downloads of an animated figure "BonziBuddy" that provided shopping advice, jokes, and trivia was fined US$75,000 for COPPA violations.
In December 2012, the Federal Trade Commission issued revisions effective July 1, 2013, which create additional parental notice and consent requirements, amended definitions and added other obligations, for organizations that (1) operate a website or online service that is “directed to children” under 13 and that collects “personal information” from users or (2) knowingly collects personal information from persons under 13 through a website or online service. After July 1, 2013, operators must:
- Make reasonable efforts (taking into account available technology) to provide direct notice to parents of the operator’s practices with regard to the collection, use, or disclosure of personal information from persons under 13, including notice of any material change to such practices to which the parents has previously consented;
- Obtain verifiable parental consent, with limited exceptions, prior to any collection, use, and/or disclosure of personal information from persons under age 13;
- Provide a reasonable means for a parent to review the personal information collected from their child and to refuse to permit its further use or maintenance;
- Establish and maintain reasonable procedures to protect the confidentiality, security, and integrity of the personal information collected from children under age 13, including by taking reasonable steps to disclose/release such personal information only to parties capable of maintaining its confidentiality and security; and
- Retain personal information collected online from a child for only as long as is necessary to fulfill the purpose for which it was collected and delete the information using reasonable measures to protect against its unauthorized access or use.
- Operators are prohibited from conditioning a child’s participation in an online activity on the child providing more information than is reasonably necessary to participate in that activity.
According to a notice issued by the Federal Trade Commission an operator has actual knowledge of a user’s age if the site or service asks for – and receives – information from the user that allows it to determine the person’s age. An example cited by the FTC includes, an operator who asks for a date of birth on a site’s registration page has actual knowledge as defined by COPPA if a user responds with a year that suggests they’re under 13. Another example cited by the FTC that an operator may have actual knowledge based on answers to “age identifying” questions like “What grade are you in?” or “What type of school do you go to? (a) elementary; (b) middle; (c) high school; (d) college.”
In the changes effective July 1, 2013, the definition of an operator has been updated to make clear that COPPA covers a child-directed site or service that integrates outside services, such as plug-ins or advertising networks, that collect personal information from its visitors. The definition of a website or online service directed to children is expanded to include plug-ins or ad networks that have actual knowledge that they are collecting personal information through a child-directed website or online service. Websites and services that target children as a secondary audience may differentiate among users, and are required to provide notice and obtain parental consent only for those users who identify themselves as being younger than 13. The definition of personal information requiring parental notice and consent before collection now includes “persistent identifiers” that can be used to recognize users over time and across different websites or online services. However, no parental notice and consent is required when an operator collects a persistent identifier for the sole purpose of supporting the website or online service’s internal operations. The definition of personal information after July 1, 2013, also includes geolocation information, as well as photos, videos, and audio files that contain a child’s image or voice.
This is an American law, however, the Federal Trade Commission has made it clear that the requirements of COPPA will apply to foreign-operated web sites if such sites "are directed to children in the U.S. or knowingly collect information from children in the U.S." Since the law is US federal, it's applicable only to websites that run:
- by websites under US jurisdiction
- by websites which servers are hosted in US
- by websites which headquarters are located in the US territory.
- by commercial websites.
However, the law caused huge international impact, so that even websites which are not either under US jurisdiction, or which servers or headquarters are not located into US, started blocking children under 13, even giving up parental consent. Staff of these websites explain their child blocking implementation by common sense of children - that they don't have enough common sense, or they can't make their own decisions. They compare the website accounts to documents like driver's license, National ID card (or a passport) etc.
COPPA is highly controversial and has been criticized as ineffective and potentially unconstitutional by many people and mass media. They say it attacks children's rights to freedom of speech and self-expression. Article 13 of UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that it "shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child's choice". Clearly, "any other media" includes Internet as well. The Convention was ratified by almost all UN member states except United States (which COPPA belongs to) and Somalia. It's also been stated that COPPA also contradicts First Amendment, which applies to all minors - even those under 13.
Delays in obtaining parental consent often result in children moving on to other activities that are less appropriate for their age. In addition, age restrictions and the "parental consent" process is easy for children to circumvent, and parents generally help them to lie about their age. Internet Safety Technical Task Force found out that mandatory age verification could not be a solution for privacy, but rather its violation. The law has also many safety flaws - for example it does not protect kids from being advertised to, it does not prevent kids from accessing pornography or lying about their age, and that it is impossible to ensure totally safe environment online on the governmental level and, if so, it may be similar to SOPA/PIPA. Another point is that parents, not government, are responsible for protecting children online. 
COPPA was also criticized of potential chilling effect on children's apps, content, websites and online services. For example, Snapchat released a Snapkidz version of it, but unlike the Snapchat, Snapkidz doesn't allow photo sharing at all.  Similarly, it was pointed that the COPPA Rule was not about privacy protection, but more about "enforcing the laws".
COPPA's penalties for failing to comply are very crucial ($16,000 per child) for the small businesses and can undermine the business model. While some major corporations have enough money to pay the fine or implement parental consent mechanism, small businesses cannot afford it.
Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and CEO of Facebook, has expressed opposition to COPPA and stated "That will be a fight we take on at some point. My philosophy is that for education you need to start at a really, really young age."
- California Online Privacy Protection Act (OPPA) effective as of July 1, 2004
- Child Online Protection Act (COPA)
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- Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) of 1998, via Federal Trade Commission
- 16 C.F.R. Part 312, the FTC's Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule, via Government Printing Office
- Six Step Compliance Plan for Your Business via Federal Trade Commission, Business Center
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