FYI Corner: COPPA (Children's Online Privacy Protection Act)

by Mike Smith, Station Products & Innovation and Tricia George, PBS KIDS

In 1998, Congress passed into law the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, requiring all online businesses/entities that format their websites to cater to children under the age of 13 to adhere to a certain set of rules and regulations when requesting personal information from these children about themselves, their parents, and even their friends. Personal information includes but is not limited to first and last name, home or school address, social security number, and email address.

IQ Zoo from WQED
At PBS, one of our primary demographics is young children. Because of this, it is important that stations' online kids’ presence comply with these guidelines. PBS KIDS Interactive provides COPPA-compliant tools and modules to help create and maintain a fun, educational and safe online space.

Modules and tools created by PBS KIDS Interactive do not request personal information from kids. For instance, the PBS KIDS GO! Login is used by several upcoming station projects to keep track of kids' scores, preferences and game progress. Keep your eyes open for iQ Zoo by WQED. It will help you create partnerships with local 'animal places' and lets kids add animals to their own zoo.

Fun Finder by KBTC helps kids schedule and keep track of all their homework, favorite shows and activities while still maintaining their safety. The login allows kids to localize on the shell sites, make friends with other users and mark favorite games, videos and avatars. All of that information is available to stations, but doesn't include anything that might identify the child including gender, birthday or address.

Several existing modules that create interactive experiences for kids on your station site include FacePlace by WFSU (a social-networking application for creating buttons, sharing favorite colors and writing stories) and Collect the Dots by WNET (that comes complete with a WNET-created login and leaderboard so kids can see high scores from their station).
FacePlace from WFSU
Collect the Dots from Thirteen

Below is a more extensive definition of the Act taken directly from the Federal Trade Commission's website as well as information outlining how online entities covered under the rule can be compliant with these guidelines.

"The primary goal of COPPA and the Rule is to place parents in control over what information is collected from their young children online. The Rule was designed to protect children under age 13 while accounting for the dynamic nature of the Internet. The Rule applies to operators of commercial websites and online services directed to children under 13 that collect, use, or disclose personal information from children, and operators of general audience websites or online services with actual knowledge that they are collecting, using, or disclosing personal information from children under 13.

Operators covered by the Rule must:
  • Post a clear and comprehensive privacy policy on their website describing their information practices for children’s personal information
  • Provide direct notice to parents and obtain verifiable parental consent, with limited exceptions, before collecting personal information from children
  • Give parents the choice of consenting to the operator’s collection and internal use of a child’s information, but prohibiting the operator from disclosing that information to third parties
  • Provide parents access to their child’s personal information to review and/or have the information deleted
  • Give parents the opportunity to prevent further use or online collection of a child’s personal information
  • Maintain the confidentiality, security, and integrity of information they collect from children.
In addition, the Rule prohibits operators from conditioning a child’s participation in an online activity on the child’s providing more information than is reasonably necessary to participate in that activity."

For more information on COPPA, visit: Federal Trade Commission and Bureau of Consumer Protection.

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