Personal Information and Children’s Websites

Chances are your children access the Internet at some point during the day, whether they’re using laptops at the kitchen table or sitting in classroom chairs. Many websites designed with children in mind collect personal information about site users, information that could lead to identity fraud if it fell into the wrong hands.

In order to protect the personal information of children under 13, the United States Congress passed the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in 1998, which lead to the creation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule in 2000.

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What does the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule Do?

At its most basic level, the rule requires websites gathering personal information from children under 13 seek permission from parents before collecting such data. In order to comply with the rule, a website must post a clear privacy policy and obtain verifiable parental consent. The website must give parents the option of consenting to the internal use and collection of a child’s information while also allowing parents to forbid the sale of such data to third-parties.

Under the terms of the rule, a website must also provide means for the parent to access a child’s collected information, and allow for the deletion of such data when asked by the parent. Parents have the right to prohibit further collection of a child’s information, and websites must take steps to securely and confidentially store any collected data.

Why Only Children under 13?

COPPA only protects children under the age of thirteen. Children in this age group are at high risk of abuse by unethical marketers, and are less likely to identify threats to privacy. Older children, and adults, are protected by the FTC Act, which combats unfair or deceptive business practices.

Parental Consent

COPPA allows websites to obtain parental consent in several ways, including providing “print-and-mail” forms, sending verification emails to parents, offering a toll-free phone number, or asking parents to make a credit card transaction on the website. If email is used, the email must contain a digital signature. The rule also encourages website operators to provide parents with a PIN or password to easily access children’s information.

To protect website owners, COPPA language talks of “reasonable” attempts to verify a child’s age and obtain parental consent. A smart kid could, conceivably, falsify age or parental consent. In such cases, the website is considered blameless.

International Websites and American Children

The Internet is, of course, an international environment, and COPPA is a U.S. law. The Federal Trade Commission, which oversees COPPA, states that the rule applies to any foreign websites that are either directly aimed at U.S children or which gather information about American children. The FTC notes that other nations have enacted similar laws to protect their children.

Reporting COPPA Violations

If you feel a website has violated COPPA and gathered your child’s information illegally, you can make a complaint by calling (877) FTC-HELP or visit the commission’s website to file an online complaint. Websites in violation of COPPA face penalties of up to $11,000 per violation.

Guest Author Byline: Guest post contributed by blogger Michael Deaven. Passionate about technology and education, he blogs on everything from Internet privacy to classroom chairs.

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