What is COPPA? | Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act Explained

Do you know what information your underage child is providing online?

Thanks to the numerous sites and platforms available today, keeping a tab on what information your kids give out online is an easy task.

To avoid the exploitation of private information by unfair business practices, parental consent before taking information from children is mandatory to safeguard the data collected.

The US government has taken stringent measures to ensure that children are safe online. By enacting laws that protect them from such derelictions. Child-directed sites must abide by COPPA rules and regulations to protect children’s privacy.

What is COPPA?

COPPA, also known as The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, is a US law passed in 1998.

The laws impose specific requirements on website owners to safeguard children's privacy under the age of 13 years. 

To ensure security and transparency, all the online decision-making processes related to personal information from children require parental consent.

The law necessitates that online services that create content and target children under 13 years must obtain verifiable consent.  

What Led to the Introduction of COPPA Laws?

The center for media education, in 1996, filed a complaint against kidscom, the first website directed to children.

Investigations by FTC regarding the allegations about the company's involvement in collecting information and sharing the data with third parties led to the introduction of COPPA laws passed by congress to protect children’s privacy. Any company that violates them is fined deftly.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, your company needs to apply the laws if:

  • You create content that is meant for children under the age of 13. With the actual knowledge or your contents are for the general knowledge, but you collect information for children under the stipulated age.

  • You have plugins and adverts that collect personal information from children under the age bracket.

COPPA violations draw a fine of up to $ 41,484 per misconduct. With that amount of money, it's essential to adhere to the terms and conditions placed. 

Understanding the COPPA Laws

These are the set guidelines that are generally put forward in COPPA laws.

  • For your website, ensure you have an online privacy policy comprehensively describing your purpose for collecting personal information for children under the age of 13 years online.

  • Provide direct notice to parents of children under the act with the current medium of communication when collecting, using, and disclosing personal information collected from the underage child.

  • Before personal data collection from this age group, you must obtain verifiable parental consent without restrictions.

  • Deliver a realistic means for a parent to review all the data collected online from their child and an agreement of non-disclosure.

  • Have confidentiality procedures that are aimed at securing the information disclosed and integrity among the two parties.

  • Use the personal information collected online for the purpose intended, and once done safely, discard the information.

  • Operators are strictly prohibited from collecting personal information online not provided by the parents by acts of intimidation to participate in any activity.

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What Is COPPA Compliance?

The rules target online services milling content for children under the stipulated age and websites with actual knowledge of collecting information from children.

To avoid hefty penalties for blindly publishing content, online businesses are advised to comply and follow the laws by acquiring consent.

COPPA compliance does not only apply to website operators only; the federal trade commission gives specifications on all the businesses required to comply with the laws.

They include:

  • Plugins
  • Mobile apps
  • Gaming platforms
  • Ad networks
  • VOIP Services
  • Toys or connected devices that function by accessing the internet.
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What's the Purpose of COPPA?

The purpose of COPPA is to regulate online services directed to children or other websites that intend to pass general information without boundaries with actual knowledge of collecting personal information from children.

It’s essential that you look into COPPA regulations to avoid fines and penalties and issue direct privacy notice to parents before taking any information.

Here’s a breakdown outlining COPPA’s purpose. 

  • The law ensures that parents control information on websites that are targeting children for private information. Total control of the information provided by children to these websites. 
  •  The laws protect individuals from businesses sharing collected information with third parties.
  • Fines companies that violate COPPA laws by imposing heavy fines. For instance, YouTube was fined $170 million in 2019 for illegally extracting information from children without obtaining verifiable parental consent.
  • It precludes other websites with the actual knowledge of children's contents from acquiring personal information from children under the age of 13 without obtaining consent forms from parents.
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Most importantly, to apply the rules and regulations, COPPA created a safe harbor program that website owners use to submit self-regulatory guidelines for approval.

After the approval, your company will be certified as COPPA compliant. The trustee organizations ensure you abide by the laws. 

Role of Federal Trade Commission (FTC) On COPPA Laws 

The Federal Trade Commission plays an essential role in the legislation of these laws as they set out what is considered children-directed content. 

The Federal Trade Commission, in collaboration with COPPA laws, offers guidelines to website creators concerning operations.

The Federal Trade Commission protects consumers from deceptive and unfair business by providing reasonable steps to organizations. 

For COPPA, FTC provides measures by giving out guidelines to the content that targets children under the age of 13, intended for commercial services such as:

  • Content that uses cartoons and animated characters for advertisements and to pass information. 
  • Websites that use child celebrities will automatically draw children to that user's age.
  • The subject matter appeals to that age group, and content is created specifically for children.
  • Adverts that use younger models will definitely attract the attention of younger children.
  • Visual and audio content that is pleasing and catchy to this age group. Child images and everything that relates to children.

Here is the list of what the federal trade commission considers personal information.

  • Full names
  • Email address
  • Telephone address
  • Physical locations
  • Credit or debit card details
  • Personal images
  • Child's voice 
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Part of the work of the federal agency is to clearly define and outline boundaries on COPPA laws that includes content published with operators' actual knowledge that it's meant for children.

What Does COPPA Mean for YouTube? 

YouTube's controversial violation of COPPA regulations that led to the multi-billion company part with $170million in 2019 due to the fines imposed by the federal agency led to significant radical changes in the involvement of Google with creative creators.

Google stated that content creators are legally liable for what they produce concerning COPPA laws.

According to the Federal Trade Commission's regulations, content creators and YouTube channels must fully define the videos on their online sites to determine if the content is directed to younger viewers.

Google uses algorithms techniques to sweep out defaulters and ensure general data protection regulations are adhered to.

What's more?

YouTube videos created for kids and marked as per the guidelines are limited to conducting targeted behavioral advertising.

YouTube features like live chats, saving videos to watch later, and the ability to log in have been disabled. Worry not, as this only applies to content that is meant for the children under the act.

a kid in a car holding tablet with Youtube logo on the screen

COPPA Law Violations 

Other than what the COPPA law stipulates for general data protection regulations.

Can you be in trouble for anything else?

The federal trade commission website provides instances of these companies that got in trouble and what actions were against the law. 

Online services dealing with a child's personal information must obtain parental consent and follow specific protocols.  

COPPA Fines and Penalties 

With a whopping $40,000 fine imposed per single violation, a start-up business cannot afford to disregard the laws put in place by the government to protect children. Some businesses opt to ban younger viewers from their sites to escape the laws put in place.

We already know that YouTube was fined millions for violations of these laws. This penalty made google safe harbor programs. 

Other companies that were fined include:

  • $ 5.7 million fine on Bytedance for allegedly failing to comply with the regulations set aside by the children's privacy protection act.
  • InMobi was fined $ 950 000 for tracking the geographical locations of users under the age of 13 years.

The penalty charges vary depending on the action of the violations. Individuals yearning to create online content for kids under the age of 13 should make close adherence to the provided laws to avoid penalties.

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