RealTime IT News

Web Sites Coping With COPPA

Recently, several parents were vexed by e-mails their children received explaining they would no longer be able to access many popular Web sites without having their parents go through a verification process that included submitting a credit card number.

The e-mails were sent as part of Web sites' efforts to comply with the Children's Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA), which was signed into law in 1998, and goes into effect Friday. Now, commercial Web sites and online services that collect personal information from children under the age of 13 without the consent of their parents are breaking federal law and face fines of $11,000 per violation.

To comply with the law has not been child's play. For instance, Yahoo! Inc. has added Family Account registration, which is specifically designed to prevent underage children from accessing personalized services without parental consent. When a user is identified as being under the age of 13 (detected by the date of birth entered during the registration process), a parent or supervising adult must now create a family account, which only can be accomplished by providing a valid credit card number with expiration date. Once credit card data is entered, the youth may establish and/or maintain a Yahoo! account as well as gain access to the site's personalized services.

According to Yahoo! Privacy Policy Manager Anne Toth, the credit card entry is a means of verifying that the individual registering the minor is over the age of 18.

"Fundamentally, with the family account registration, the parent now has the control, for example, to see what types of emails their children are receiving and modify their children's accounts," she adds. "Additionally, we have established barriers, including blocking children from creating a club or joining certain clubs. The changes we have implemented, which were put into place last May, allow parents to become more involved in their kids' Web-surfing activities."

At Excite@Home, user information is being segmented so the site can determine which users are under the age of 13 and delete their personally identifiable information.

"Also, we now do not allow that segment entry to products that require personally identifiable information, such as email and chat rooms," said Leigh Dally, Excite's senior public relations manager.

"However, minors can still use other parts of the Excite service such as the personalized start page and Excite planner. We are considering implementing parental consent mechanisms for children under 13."

COPPA was created to put parents back in charge of their children's personal information online, said Robert Pitofsky, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, in a statement.

"The Act gives parents the tools to control who collects personal information from their kids, how that information is used and whether it is shared with third parties. The rule implements one of the Commission's top goals - protecting children's privacy online."

Key provisions of COPPA are that sites must:

  • Provide parents notice of their information practices
  • Give parents a choice as to whether their child's information will be disclosed to a third party
  • Provide parents access to their child's personal information and allow them to review it and/or have it deleted
  • Not require a child provide more information than is reasonably necessary to participate in an activity
  • Give parents the opportunity to prevent further use or collection of information
  • Maintain the confidentiality, security and integrity of information collected from children

America Online Inc. (AOL) reported that it deleted the profiles of anyone who listed their age as under 13