What is COPPA and Why Should You Care?

Children's Online PrivacyAs of July 1st, the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act is going to change.  Chances are, you didn’t know that, don’t know what COPPA is, and don’t care.  And that’s a shame.  Because you should.  Because it’s all about what your kids can and cannot do on the internet.

What is COPPA Anyway?

So what is COPPA?  You probably think it has something to do with protecting kids from inappropriate content online.  Nope.  Or cyberbullying.  Not that either. Or maybe you think it’s about protecting kids from child predators.  Well, Sort of.   COPPA is the set of FTC regulations that governs how websites gather information from kids under the age of 13.  (Evidently, the law was written by Orthodox Jews who believe that at 13, kids are officially adults.  Bar Mitzvah or not.)

One of the things COPPA does to is to protect children from themselves.  Kids can’t put up any Personally Identifiable Information about themselves without their parents’ permission.  No phone numbers, addresses, first and last name combos – and with the new law, no faces or voices, either. Makes sense.

COPPA Protects Kids’ Data from Marketers

Most parents I talk to don’t realize that it’s illegal for kids to have YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Gmail accounts.  Not a rule.  A Federal regulation.  That’s COPPA in action, protecting kids from sites like these from selling your kid’s data to the highest bidder.

And that’s the main thing COPPA does: protect children under 13 from big bad marketers. Marketers who want to take kids data so they can serve them with behavior based, targeted ads.  Ooh. Scary.

I don’t mean to be dismissive of the fact that our kids are overrun with advertising.  It’s a problem.  And the amount of information out there about all of us is staggering. But it does seem that the new law misses the point. Advertisers are hardly the scariest thing on the internet.

Why Parents Should Care

Parents should care about COPPA because the information that your child shares about him or herself does matter.  Geo-location, phone numbers, “persistent identifiers” that allow people to track them from site to site. The problem is, the law is only about information from kids – and not about them.

For instance, if your own 9 year old tries to put photo of herself and ten of her friends up on a website, that website is supposed to know she’s under aged, and decline the photo.  If, however, another parent decides to put up that same photo – even though the other nine kids aren’t theirs, that’s just fine.   The photo could even clearly show the name and location of their school.  As long as it isn’t a kid who put it up – that’s fine with the FTC.

So COPPA protects kids from themselves, but not from adults. Unless those adults are marketers. Huh?

Verified Parental Consent

Of course, once kids have parental permission  – verified parental consent –  they can share anything.  So how will websites know that their parents’ gave permission?

The can ask parents to do one of the following:

1. Give the last four digits of their Social Security Number

2. Hand over their Drivers License info

3. Have a video conference with a member of the website’s staff

4. Allow a small charge to their credit card.

So picture it: your kid goes online, wants to sign up for a site, knows that he’s not Bar Mitzvah aged, so he immediately goes and asks his mother to hand over her social security number.

Yeah right.

More likely, your kid will lie.  Your kid will learn – after the first time they can’t sign up without their parents handing over their lives – that lying is way easier. She will miraculously turn 14 overnight. (There’s also the fact that these methods only determine someone is 18 – not that they’re the child’s parent but that’s another post)

You, as a parent, will have to decide: do you want to be like the 67% of parents who have helped their kids lie to get Facebook accounts before they’re 13? Or do you want to hand over your personal information? And do you want to bother every time the next big thing comes along?

Or – do you just wish the law made more sense?

Do you wish the law had waited until there was technology available to verify parental consent was from parents?  Or that it protected kids from information about them – and not just from them.  Do you wish it punished website for serving inappropriate or damaging content?

Do you wish that the new COPPA law felt enhanced, rather than like a one-page law that was turned into a 67 page mine field for those of us who run website for kids?

I know I do.

Full disclosure:  my business, www.KidzVuz.com, is all about kids under 13.   So the law directly impacts my business, and my bottom line. So, yes, I have a stake.  But we created KidzVuz  as a safe alternative to YouTube, so I’m all for more and better laws to protect kids online.  Just not loving this one.


  1. says

    so, we can pay to allow them to use it before 13? am I correct in understanding that? if that is the case – seems like extortion to me….even if it is a small fee. and perhaps – teaches our kids that they can purchase privileges?

    • says

      No! It’s a micro charge, which then gets credited back to you, at least most of the time. just so that you can prove you are over 18…thus old enough to have a credit card. Of course all It proves is that you are an adult, not the kid’s parent, but nothing is perfect, right?
      The coat is to the site operator, since each transaction costs us…on both ends. Though in fairness, a small charge to ensure kids’ safety isn’t out of line. It’s just that I’m not suee it does that.

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