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Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998

Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998
Summary:
 
The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (15 U.S.C. §§ 6501-6506) (aka “COPPA”) was enacted to protect children under the age of 13 from divulging personal information online and providing parents with the ability to ensure that the child’s personal information is not compromised.  (See: www.ftc.gov/ogc/stat3.shtm).
 
After several years of providing documentation that the industry was not suited to self-regulation of this information, Congress enacted the legislation that President Clinton signed on October 21, 1998.  The bill became effective on April 21, 2000.  The act does, however, contain a “safe harbor” provision for those website/online services that create an acceptable self-regulating standard.
 
Key Points:
  • A child is defined as an individual under the age of 13.
  • An operator is a person who operates an Internet website or online service that collects/maintains personal information about visitors to that site, including persons offering products or services for sale.
  • Personal Information is defined as: first and last name; home or physical address with street name, city or town; email address; telephone number; social security number; any other identifier; or information about a child or the parents of the child that is collected online from the child and combines with an identifier.
  • Verifiable Parental Consent includes any reasonable effort to ensure that  a parent (which includes legal guardian) receives notice of the collection, use, and disclosure practices and authorizes the collection, use and disclosure of personal information and potential subsequent use of that information before the information is collected from the child.
  • The operator of a website or online service directed to children, if it has actual knowledge that it is collecting personal information from a child must provide notice on the website of what information is being collected, how the operator uses that information, the disclosure practices of that information and they must obtain verifiable parental consent for that collection, use or disclosure of the information.
  • Upon the request of a properly identified parent whose child(ren) has provided personal information to the website/online service, the website/online service is required to provide a description of the specific types of personal information collected; the opportunity to refuse further use/maintenance of that personal information; and the means to obtain any personal information collected from the child (i.e., the parents can have the personal information deleted permanently).
  • Should any material changes be made in the collection, use or disclosure practices of the child’s personal information, the website/operator is required to send a new notice and obtain a new verifiable consent of/from the parent(s).
  • A parent may revoke the consent at any time.
  • Violations of the Act are considered to be “unfair or deceptive trade practices” under § 5 of the FTC Act.  Penalties can be as high as $11,000.00 per violation.  Additionally, state attorneys general may bring actions in federal district court to enforce compliance with the FTC regulations and to obtain other forms of compensation. The FTC monitors the Internet and encourages parents to file complaints on its website of possible violations.
Why is it still relevant?
 
Children continue to be children and sometimes they do not exercise the best judgment, especially when using an internet connection on a computer.  Parents (and legal guardians) have to exercise their judgment regarding what information can be in the public domain without harming or causing potential harm to their individual families.  As the Act’s primary goal is to give parents control over what information is collected from their children online and how such information may be used, this act is necessary to ensure that parents have the tools to supervise and regulate the websites and /or online services that are so prevalent in today’s society.
 
Contributed by:
 
Lynne A. Quimby-Pennock
Assistant General Counsel
Florida Office of Financial Regulation
Legal Services Office

Last modified at 7/23/2010 9:00 AM  by Rosemarie Shaheen