Do Foreign Companies Have To Follow FTC COPPA Rules? (Yes!)
Can the U.S. Federal Trade Commission fine foreign websites and apps for not following state-side online marketing regulations? It sure can. Here’s the bottom Internet marketing line: All commercial products and services available to U.S. citizens are subject to FTC regulations.
BabyBus COPPA Violations: Example of a Foreign Businesses Being Investigated By The FTC
Recently, Chinese app developer BabyBus Network Technology Co. (“BabyBus”) learned the answer to the question, “Do foreign companies have to follow FTC rules?,” when the Asia-based developer got a Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) violation warning:
“Because you are collecting precise geolocation information, which is considered ‘personal information’ under the rule, you must provide notice and obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting, using, or disclosing this information. Your failure to do so appears to violate COPPA and its implementing rule.”
Exhibiting a bit of Internet law diplomacy, the Federal Trade Commission gave BabyBus a month to review its product, and then make necessary changes.
What Are The Main Things To Remember About The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA):
- If your commercial website, app or platform is used by children younger than 13, you must adhere to restrictions outlined in the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act – the only (currently) extant federal online privacy law in the U.S.
- Without parental/guardian consent, it’s against regulations for commercial websites, apps and platforms to collect personally identifiable information about people younger than 13.
- There are specific COPPA rules regarding acceptable parental consent. For example, simply collecting a credit card number doesn’t meet standards. To make compliance easier, the FTC recently approved a program in which developers can submit their “parental consent gathering” apps for COPPA safe harbor certification. If the FTC accepts an app or platform for the program, said app or platform can be incorporated into websites and software that are beholden to COPPA regulations. It’s akin to blogs using a program like “Disqus” as a commenting engine.
- Even if tweens are not your target demographic, if you have “actual knowledge” that minors are using your commercial site or software, platform or application, then you’re beholden to COPPA regulations. You’re best bet is to consult an FTC marketing lawyer to make sure you’re in the legal clear.
What Does ‘Commercial’ Mean In Regards To The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act?
Unsure if your website would legally be considered “commercial” by a court? Have an Internet lawyer look at it. You may not think your website is “commercial,” but a plugin or process may deem it so in the eyes of the Federal Trade Commission.
Get An FTC Marketing Audit
Do you run a commercial website or app that a child may use? Have you developed an app, platform or plugin that could be deployed on a commercial website that a kid might visit? If yes, then you should be aware of regulations laid out in the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. An FTC marketing lawyer can review your operation and let you know if your product or service is beholden to COPPA.
The next time someone answers “no” to the question: “Do foreign companies have to follow FTC COPPA regulations,” you can set them straight using the BabyBus example.