Minimum age requirements keep children safe online. We all know they help to keep children away from content too mature for their age. However, with COPPA, minimum age requirements do far more to keep our children safe.
The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act
The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) became law in 1998. The Act states that websites shouldn’t keep tracking data on children under 13 after the action requiring data is finished. This means that websites — and third party applications — must protect and delete this data. In addition, COPPA lays out guidelines for privacy policies, user agreements and parental consent. In 2013, the Federal Trade Commission updated COPPA, including restrictions on what websites do with data that gets collected.
COPPA allows the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to restrict sites that gather and store data irresponsibly. Due to the age restriction, young children cannot have Facebook accounts without parental permission. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and CEO, argues that this prevents learning. Others argue that the need to protect children from predators and data theft far outweighs any potential learning experiences Facebook may offer. COPPA affects other social media sites, too. For instance, children under 13 cannot use Snapchat at all, due to its messaging features. Also, COPPA doesn’t just regulate social media sites. The law famously fined Mrs. Field’s Cookies’ and Hershey Food’s websites for gathering data from children without their parents’ consent.
Check for COPPA Compliance
Most sites willingly comply with COPPA. However, some sites make mistakes. For example, the FTC found out that inMobi, an advertising company, tracked the location of all of its users, even if they were under 13. The company said they simply didn’t think to turn off the tracking feature. Nonetheless, the FTC fined inMobi just short of a million dollars. This example shows how important it is for parents to supervise their children’s online activities.
If you’re a parent and want to know more about COPPA, check out this guide. If you’re a teacher or administrator and want to know more about how COPPA affects schools, check out this article in Education Week.
Text by Cameron Sullivan