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The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act impacts your business

Today, major changes were made to COPPA that all website owners need to be aware of, but major questions remain unanswered.


New changes to a decade old law

A decade and almost a half ago, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) went into effect, which made it incredibly difficult for website owners to collect information about the users it determined to be under the age of thirteen.

Note that it didn’t make it illegal, it just made it difficult. They could still ask for parental permission to gather information about the kid…b ut the amount of paperwork involved in the process was so extreme that, for the most part, Family Website runners simply decided to treat all users as if they were 12 or younger. You know, to save time.

According to a statement made by Reuters1 today, the FTC has proposed some changes, citing things like cellular devices and social media integration as reasonable reasons to make things all at once easier and harder on website owners.

Unanswered questions pertaining to COPPA

If the proposal passes, website owners will be responsible for third party data collectors who gather data on users who are under thirteen but who haven’t gotten verifiable parental permission to give their information out.

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Here are some questions that aren’t answered but should be:

  • Who, exactly, benefits in this situation if the website owner gets dinged for third party activity?
  • Why wouldn’t a third party system be held responsible for being told not to collect the data and then collecting it anyway?
  • What, exactly, constitutes “verifiable” parental consent?
  • Are there really that many kids aged twelve and under running around with internet enabled smart phones that haven’t had parental blockers and passwords put on them?
  • Do these kids really have unfettered and non-parentally supervised access to social media sites like Facebook?
  • Why is thirteen (the age at which peer pressure starts to get significantly more intense) conveniently the magic age at which we decide a person is no longer in need of protection against marketers?
  • Why does Facebook always seem to win?
  • And, most importantly (and we ask in jest): did they choose the name “Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act” just so they would have an excuse to say the word “Copper” with a bad Brooklyn accent a lot?

1 Reuters report

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