A new update was made to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) during the first week of July, 2013. The changes affect social media and smart phone apps. Additionally, the companies that target their marketing to children less than 13 years of age will have some additional burdens.
Express permission from parents is now required for any website or smart phone app that collects geo-location data or photos from children. This places this information within the same category as the children’s home address and email. The changes also finally closed a loophole in the original law that marketers were exploiting. The loophole had not held marketers responsible for the information gathered by third parties. Now the marketers can be held responsible for this information.
The original COPPA law was passed by Congress in 1998. This was before Facebook and Twitter were invented. These updates have been needed for a long time.
The COPPA update also bars firms from using cookies and other digital identifiers to track children. They cannot use the children’s’ behaviors to serve them ads. If the data is collected purely for technological reasons, such as when filling out information prior to sending it (such as when one has a shopping cart on a website with items in it prior to checking out), the data must be deleted as soon as possible.
Parents may not notice these changes for a while. They will begin seeing the apps requesting parental permissions. These requests may be sent via email or other methods. Parents should watch for these requests to ensure that the children don’t use fake or alternate email addresses to circumvent the new rules by granting themselves permission.
There are some who worry that these changes to COPPA that the stricter rules will cause some companies to stop making apps for kids. They also worry that this will lead some young tech users to lie their way into subscribing to adult services instead of going through the parental permission steps.
Several industry groups are not happy with the changes and were lobbying against them from the moment the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) proposed them in 2012. The United States Chamber of Commerce and the Interactive Advertising Bureau, along with several other groups tried to convince the FTC to postpone implementations as part of a last ditch effort. They tried to get the changes postponed for six months but the FTC rejected their request on May 6, 2013. The FTC told the groups that they had been given plenty of time to prepare for the changes. The FTC did tell them that the FTC would ease into enforcement for a period of time.
It is already difficult for kids to get started on sites like Facebook. Facebook doesn’t allow kids less than 13 years of age to use its site. This exempts Facebook from the new regulations. But it is known that millions of children have lied their way onto the social networking site anyway. Over half of the parents of twelve year old children report that their kids regularly use Facebook.
While Facebook may seem to be exempt, the companies that develop for Facebook are affected by the new regulations. Since those regulations require companies to be responsible for third-party data, Facebook will be required to be far more vigilant in their efforts to protect the personal privacy of kids. The FTC is expected to crack down on all of the digital platforms that have in the past looked the other way regarding the age of their users.
The Center for Digital Democracy has already begun its public effort to add some bite to the new rules. It has sent letters to its partner groups asking them to police the Web watching for violations of COPPA.
More related stories…