We knew the day would come when we
would see computers in the classrooms of students of all ages, even preschoolers.
Even at home, computer usage among younger children is on the rise, and as
such, so is Internet usage by a younger audience. Recent
CPB statistics show that more than 65 percent of
children* in the United States use the Internet at home, school or at public libraries.
Naturally, many parents are torn between allowing their children access to registration-required Web sites, whether they are sites created by individuals or Web sites created by
corporations and nonprofit organizations.
Seeing a need for some concrete laws regarding what
can and can't be used when collecting information from children online, the
Federal Trade Commission
enacted new rules for Web site administrators to ensure a child's privacy is
respected online. These rules were an addition to the 1998 Children's Online
Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), and took effect in the year 2000.
Web sites knowingly collecting information from children under the age of 13
must provide a public notice on their Web site that indicates the type of public
information they collect (such as name, phone number address and so on). The site
must also state how this information is used, and whether the information is
made available to third parties. Additionally, unless the information is
being used for a one-time event (like a contest or to collect an e-mail address
for a newsletter list), the Web site must obtain parental consent before
collecting and using this information about a child.
[example of a COPPA compliant
registration form from ytv.com]
For the Web sites needing to comply with COPPA, the
challenge was great. Many Web sites needed to invest a large amount of money to
comply with the law, and some sites run as non-profit or for fun ended up
shutting down because they did not have available finances to comply with the
amended Children's Online
Privacy Protection Act. Still, other Web sites who couldn't afford to comply
stuck up notices stating their Web site was not intended for those under the age
of 13 which kept them free of having to comply but also enabled them to
continue running their Web site.
In theory, this amendment to the
Children's Online Privacy Protection Act
would make one think it is safe to allow your child
to surf the Internet and register on Web sites dedicated to their favorite game
or cartoon character, but it is important to remember that the
Children's Online Privacy Protection Act states the law, but parents must be
diligent about assisting children with online Web site registrations and
ensuring the child is not signing-up for something that is not appropriate for
their age, and that the Web site in question does comply with the privacy Act.
Additionally, many Web sites are not intended for children but your child may
still access them even if they site states its' content is not for under-aged
[example of a privacy statement written to
protect the Web site operator IF a child's information is collected]
Web sites who are found guilty of noncompliance
with COPPA now face heavy fines and repercussions. A Web site could be find up
to $11,000 per incident of noncompliance. While this deters Web sites from
breaking these laws, exceptions exist and parents need to look for
these instances. If you believe a Web site has compromised the
Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, you can file a complaint directly from
the Privacy Initiatives Web site (see related links below).
One way to ensure your child's information is not
being distributed or misused is to create a free online e-mail account that
your child can use for entering contests and registering on Web sites. Once that
account is created, the parent can assume the responsibility of checking the
e-mail account to "filter" its contents and pass along only the e-mails they
consider appropriate for their child. Additionally parents should make it a
priority to discuss privacy with their child and set rules for registering on
Web sites. This could be something as simple as having the child show you the
Web sites they wish to join, allowing you, the parent, an opportunity to read
Children's Online Privacy Protection Act provides the laws, parents still need
to be diligent in reading Web site privacy policies prior to having their child
register on them.
Statistics from CPB
Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB)
Children's Privacy: The Children's
Online Privacy Protection Act
The full text of the
Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.
Consumer Complaint Form
Form to initiate a claim for non-compliance of COPPA.
Vangie 'Aurora' Beal
Last updated: January 7, 2005