The Federal Trade Commission recently proposed several updates to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA).

COPPA currently provides that operators of websites and other online services that collect personal information online about children under 13, or whose websites or services are directed at children under 13, must:

  • post a clear and comprehensive privacy policy on their website or service describing their information practices for children’s personal information;
  • provide direct notice to parents and obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting personal information from children;
  • give parents the choice of consenting to the operator’s collection and internal use of a child’s information, but prohibiting the operator from disclosing that information to third parties;
  • provide parents access to their child’s personal information to review and/or delete it;
  • give parents the opportunity to prevent further use or online collection of a child’s personal information; and
  • maintain the confidentiality, security, and integrity of information they collect from children.

The proposed updates to COPPA are designed to address challenges created by technology advancement since COPPA was enacted in 1998 – Twitter, Facebook, and the iPhone and other smart phones and mobile devices did not exist in 1998.

What would the proposed updates to COPPA mean for website and online services?

  • COPPA’s regulations would extend to mobile devices;
  • websites that integrate features such as a Facebook login, advertising networks, and downloadable software kits ("plug-ins") would need to get verifiable parental consent before collecting personal information from children under 13;
  • behavioral advertising tracking cookies and geo-location information would be added to the definition of personal information that marketers and website operators must get verifiable parental consent to collect; and
  • COPPA would allow a website that attracts both children and adults to apply privacy protections only to those who say they are under 13 (currently, such websites must treat all users as under 13).

The proposed updates to COPPA have been in the making for several years. In September 2010, the FTC solicited public comments on how COPPA might be improved. In 2011, the FTC released its recommendations. It then solicited two additional rounds of comments on its recommendations. The FTC will make final recommendations by the end of the year.