COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act is a federal regulation that covers the online collection of personal information entered by children under the age of 13. Under the Act, the Federal Trade Commission imposes certain requirements on website operators or online service providers (including mobile apps).

The Act came into force in 2000 in order to address various online marketing techniques of the 1990s that were targeting children and collecting their data. As children under the age of 13 are especially vulnerable and do not fully understand the implications of revealing their personal information online, the Act was designed to protect such children’s privacy.

Personal information is information that can individually identify a person and may include names and last names, addresses, phone numbers, social security numbers, photographs, and sufficiently specific geolocation information, among others.

Is your website covered?

Not only do websites geared toward or providing services specifically to children fall under the Act’s scope, but also sites or services where there is actual knowledge that personal information is being collected or disclosed from children. Actual knowledge occurs when the site or service provider is in any way aware that a child is visiting the site or using the service, whether by monitoring posts and learning that a child has posted on the site or by being contacted by its parents or otherwise having reason to know of the user’s age.

Does COPPA always apply?

COPPA only regards the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information that a child entered into the internet. Thus, information about the child that its parents submitted is not covered by the Act. COPPA also doesn’t apply to the collection of information held in cookies and other non-personal identifiers if such information is just used for internal operations support of the site – if it’s used for other purposes, is combined with the child’s personal information, or can be used to recognize a user over time, it will fall under the scope of COPPA.

COPPA will apply regardless of whether the personal information submitted is mandatory or voluntary in order to use the site. It does not, however, deal with situations where a child enters personal information but lies about its age.

More on the specifics of complying with COPPA and potential fines if you do not are coming up in the next post.