COPPA Protects Children But Challenges Lie Ahead

For Release

FTC Issues Report to Congress on the First Five Years of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act

In a report to Congress, the Federal Trade Commission says the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), and the Commission’s COPPA Rule, have been effective in protecting the privacy and security of young children online without unduly burdening Web site operators. The report does not recommend any changes to COPPA or to the Commission’s Rule, but does note that, because widespread age verification technology is not available, age falsification remains a risk on general audience Web sites not intended for children’s use. The report also identifies social networking sites and mobile Internet access as new and emerging issues in children’s online privacy.

According to Implementing the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act: A Report to Congress, COPPA appears to have had a positive effect on Web site information practices, as children’s Web sites have developed innovative ways to offer children interactive online experiences while collecting little or no personal information from them. The report notes that there remains a wide range of child-directed Web sites for children to choose from, and that COPPA does not appear to have limited children’s ability to access information online.

The report also states that “there is concern that younger children are migrating to more general audience websites, such as social networking sites, that are not intended for their use but nonetheless attract their presence. . . . [T]here is potential for age falsification on general audience websites, as well as liability under COPPA, should these sites obtain actual knowledge that they are collecting, using, or disclosing personal information from children online.” The report also notes that these trends highlight the need for supplemental solutions, such as age verification technologies, that can provide additional security measures for children online. The report goes on to say that the challenges for both the FTC, as well as parents and others, will likely increase as the means by which children access the Internet increasingly move from stand-alone computers to mobile devices.

Congress enacted COPPA in 1998 to address privacy and security risks created when children under 13 years of age are online. COPPA imposes requirements on operators of Web sites and online services directed to children, as well as other operators with actual knowledge that they have collected personal information from children. The FTC Rule implementing COPPA’s requirements became effective in April 2000.

The FTC has brought 12 COPPA law enforcement actions, assessing more than $1.8 million in civil penalties for alleged violations. The report to Congress promised that the Commission will continue its law enforcement efforts by targeting significant violations and seeking increasing civil penalties to deter unlawful conduct. The FTC will also continue its substantial, ongoing commitment to both business education and education for parents and children about privacy and security risks, and actions that consumers can take to decrease them.

In connection with today’s release of its report to Congress, the FTC also is issuing a series of updated Frequently Asked Questions About the COPPA Rule. These FAQs, which are an important educational tool for business and consumers with specific COPPA questions, can be found at http://www.ftc.gov/privacy/coppafaqs.htm.

Copies of the report are available from the FTC’s Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,600 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

MEDIA CONTACT:

Jackie Dizdul,
Office of Public Affairs
202-326-2472

STAFF CONTACT:

Phyllis H. Marcus,
Bureau of Consumer Protection
202-326-2854