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Feds Begin Targeting Websites Under COPPA

By Eric Misterovich

Recently, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) has started investigating tech companies whom they suspect are violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”). COPPA, a federal law, imposes certain requirements on operators of websites or online services directed to children under 13 years of age, and on operators of other websites or online services that have actual knowledge that they are collecting personal information online from a child under 13 years of age. In other words, when children log onto gaming sites and download apps, the information they give is, by law, supposed to remain safe with the companies they’re interacting with.

The catalyst behind the FTC’s aggressive new actions follows a change they made to COPPA last year, which gave online advertisers, gaming outfits, and others a period to comply with the rapidly changing online mobile advertising space requirements. Specifically, the agency perfected three issues: the use of share buttons, when an ad network has “actual knowledge” that it has collected personal information from a child user, and what to do with information collected from child-directed sites without parental consent. Additionally, the revisions to COPPA broadened the act, extending the definition of children’s personal information to include “persistent identifiers such as cookies that track a child’s activity online, as well as geolocation information, photos, videos, and audio recordings.”

According to the FTC, “COPPA mandates that website operators or online providers directed at kids 13 and under obtain verifiable consent from the parents or guardians before disseminating the information. The law says that without the verification, companies are on the hook for any information obtained from children be distributed or sold for marketing or other purposes. The law was formed in the early days of the Internet, and much has changed since then.”

Now that the aforementioned grace period to comply with the revisions is over, the FTC is in pursuit of companies that are still not in compliance. Those companies that are found in violation of COPPA statutes will be aggressively fined $16,000 for every app download or login where COPPA is violated.

While the mobile advertising space is a complicated place, the recent crackdown on companies in suspicion of noncompliance with COPPA is the FTC’s announcement that the feds can, and will, keep up with the changing nature of technology, and will continue to afford children greater protection from online predators while doing so.

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