COPPA, or the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, is a 1998 law designed to ensure children are not being manipulated online. The law requires parental consent before a website can collect or use data from children under the age of 13. This has broad implications for entertainment websites. However, it can also apply to sites or apps commonly used in classrooms. Take, for instance, Google’s education services. Currently, the G Suite for Education, including apps like Gmail and Google Drive, has 80 million users. Similarly, Google Classroom has 40 million users. However, Google itself has admitted to collecting and using personal information about students using their apps. This means that schools may need parental consent before students use the G Suite. Therefore, it’s essential for teachers, administrators, and technology staff to understand how COPPA affects schools.
How COPPA Affects Schools
As mentioned, COPPA requires sites to obtain parental consent before collecting or using data from users under the age of 13. If students access the internet for class, schools and teachers may have to take on this responsibility. Schools may have to ask for verifiable parental consent on the site’s behalf, give consent in place of a parent, or request the deletion of collected data. However, the law does not always make it clear how the consent has to be obtained. Some schools may simply send home a note asking for parental consent for internet use in the classroom. This wouldn’t be the appropriate level of consent. Teachers need to list specific sites and what information they gather. Teachers also need to know what circumstances require consent. For example, reputable sites often don’t ask for information outside of basic login information, such as a name and an email address. However, COPPA still requires verifiable parental consent for that level of information.
For more information about what COPPA requires from websites, check out this article in Education Week. For more information about obtaining verifiable consent, check out this page on the Federal Trade Commission’s website.
How COPPA Affects Teachers
Teachers need to be aware of what COPPA requires for the technology and sites they use in the classroom. Sometimes, a teacher can provide the necessary consent. This is somewhat of a grey area. It’s often hard to know in what circumstances teachers can give consent. According to COPPA, a school can only provide consent if the stated purpose and use of the site is specific to the “educational context.” On their COPPA FAQ page, the FTC explains that all information gathered from these apps must be “for the use and benefit of the school, and for no other commercial purpose.” Accordingly, an app specifically and solely designed for the classroom would be fine. However, something like Gmail would require parental consent.
Is Your School COPPA Compliant?
COPPA compliance requirements can be unclear. This grey area is easy to avoid by making sure you have specific parental permission as often as possible. Make sure to provide extensive details about what students are doing online. Check to see if an app or program protects student privacy before adopting it for classroom use. Resources like Common Sense’s Privacy Evaluations can help.
Text by Cameron Sullivan