2015 Update: The new COPPA changes are in effect. If you run a website that kids may use, or you’ve developed an app, be sure you are up-to-date on the latest COPPA rules. Your best bet is to consult with an Internet lawyer. It’ll cost you a couple of hundred dollars, but doing so could save you from a multimillion-dollar FTC COPPA fine.
The comment period for proposed Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act changes is over. Advocacy groups voiced disappointment with the proposed COPPA changes, theorizing the bill doesn’t go far enough. Other folks felt the amendments were ill-conceived and lead to diminished privacy. Tech industry pundits and corporations sent explanations as to how the changes would negatively impact the Internet.
The only question that remains: To whom will the FTC listen?
The Main Problems With The COPPA Changes
There are numerous proposed COPPA changes, but the one point that’s causing the most consternation is the new definition of what constitutes a “children’s website.” Currently, the law specifies that sites “directed at children” were subject to COPPA regulations. Officials want to change that definition to:
“services that are likely to attract an audience that includes a large percentage of children under 13 as compared to the percentage of aged children in the general population.”
In addition to the changed definition, another point attracting attention is the new requirement that all developers must comply with COPPA regulations if they “know or have reason to know” that their site or app is being accessed by kids 13 or under. That means that anyone who develops an analytics service, ad network, social media platform or any other type of embedded media will have to figure out how to:
- prevent children’s site operators from using their programs; or
- detect when their app is on a children’s site and incorporate a way for their program to react to said children’s site – both are time- and cost-prohibitive, not to mention technologically intrusive.
What The “Supporters” Are Saying About The COPPA Amendments
Believe it or not, supporters of the stricter standards are not thrilled with the proposed changes either. But unlike people on the other side of the issue, they believe the amendments don’t go far enough. Ed Markey, the original author of the bill, summarized the position succinctly by saying he was happy with the COPPA changes, but more still needed to be done.
Larry Magid, a technology journalist and online privacy advocate, also reasoned that the proposed changes would require parents to verify their kids’ identities in some circumstances, which actually exposes children to cyber mischief.
The FTC’s Plan To Exempt “Age-Screened” Sites From COPPA Regulations
One of the FTC’s COPPA change plans is to exempt sites that “age-screen”. Presumably, this is to provide protection for third-party app and plugin developers who have very little control over who chooses to use their modular software.
This “solution”, however, could cause more confusion and headaches than it will solve. For starters, it puts the onus of incorporating an age-screening mechanism on the site operators – many of which may not be tech-savvy. Plus, in order to play it safe, app and plugin developers will most likely need to incorporate a caveat on their cloud-ware that says their program cannot be installed on site’s “directed at kids.” This, of course, will lead to increased costs and decreased innovation.
Another issue with the FTC’s age-screen proposal is called the “Disney loophole.” Apparently, the way the document currently reads gives mega-corp Disney an advantage because many of their sites will fall under the “not directed at kids” category.
Consult With A COPPA Lawyer
If you run a website or have an app that is child-centric, then it’s important to review the new COPPA changes. You can find information on the FTC’s website. Like most things tied to the FTC, COPPA is a bit vague. As such, it’s best to consult with an Internet lawyer if you’re in the children’s software business.