What is the Online Privacy Protection Act

The Online Protection Act, signed by Congress and Former President Bill Clinton on October 21, 1998 was to be enacted in April 2000 in response to a growing awareness of Internet marketing techniques that targeted children and collected their personal information from websites without any parental notification. (“COPPA”) or the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act,specifically protects the privacy of children under the age of 13 by requesting parental consent for the collection or use of any personal information of the users. The Act applies to commercial websites and online services that target children.

Congress’ intent was to protect children’s personal information, while increasing parental involvement in children’s online activities. 10 million children in the United States by 1998 had access to the Internet. This was around the time sales marketing and distribution of products and services began to establish the foot hold it currently has on the net.

Children, specifically those under thirteen, proved to be easy targets. The interactive nature of the Internet allowed marketers to collect personal information from children through chat room registration and discussion boards. Marketers were able to track behavior of web surfers through advertisements with the promise of gifts in exchange for personal information. Marketers sold this information, as well as information gathered about the family, to third parties for various commercial purposes.

A CBS television reporter was able to purchase a list of children’s names using the name of a notorious killer. Pedophiles were able to obtain these same lists. According to a CNN Report in 1995, “There is no law on the books that prevents a stranger from calling a 900-number and getting information about your children.”

Specifically, the Act, forbids the collection of children’s first and last names, home addresses, email addresses, telephone numbers, Social Security Numbers, or any other personal identifiers of the child or his/her parents, such as IP addresses or customer IDs in cookies.

According to COPPA, if you operate or maintain a for profit website and have specific sections for children or actual knowledge of children using your site, you must follow the COPPA regulations. There are five general regulations to follow:

1. A link to a privacy policy must be posted in a visible place on every page where personal information is collected, and it should clearly imply that the use of the site is conditioned upon the acceptance of the privacy policy.

2. Requires a website operator to obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting any personal information from children.

3. A website operator must provide parents with the opportunity to review any information collected on their children by the website.

4. COPPA prohibits website operators from conditioning a child’s participation in online games and contests on the contingency of disclosure of “unnecessary” personal information.

5. You must protect the confidentiality, security, and integrity of any personal information that is collected online from children.

Of course there are criticisms, they include, “the methods outlined by the FTC for verification – sending/faxing signed printed forms, supplement of credit card numbers, calling toll-free numbers, or forwarding digital signatures through email – are too costly, cumbersome, and inadequate in protecting personal information.” In my personal opinion, we should all look to make this Legislation successful. Nothing is more important than our future, the kiddos.