Beginning April 21, commercial Web sites that collect personal information from children under 13 years old without the consent of their parents are breaking federal law.
"The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act and our implementing Rule provide important new protections for kids who surf the net and for their parents," said Federal Trade Commission Chairman Robert Pitofsky. "The Act puts parents back in charge of their children's personal information online. It gives them the tools to control who collects personal information from their kids, how that information is used, and whether it is shared with third parties. This Rule implements one of the Commission's top goals -- protecting children's privacy online."
The Rule applies to operators of commercial Web sites and online services directed to children (under 13), and general audience sites that know that they are collecting personal information from a child. Sites must:
The FTC has launched a special Web page at www.ftc.gov/kidsprivacy to help children, parents, and site operators understand the provisions of COPPA and how
the new law will affect them. Resources available on the Web site include guides for businesses and parents, and "smart surfing" tips for kids. In addition, the FTC is encouraging corporations, organizations, and others with an interest in children's online privacy to link to the agency's kids' privacy page. Among the groups that have already agreed to help publicize the Rule are: America Online, the Center for Media Education, Chancery Software, Cyberangels.org, Direct Marketing Association, Disney/Go Network, GetNetWise, Lycos, Microsoft, Net Nanny Software International, Net Family News, TRUSTe, and Viacom/Nickelodeon.
A March 1998 FTC survey of 212 commercial children's Web sites found that while 89 percent of the sites collected personal information from children, only 24 percent posted privacy policies and only one percent required parental consent for the collection or disclosure of children's information. The Commission recommended that Congress enact legislation to provide privacy protections for children online.
On October 21, 1998, the COPPA was signed into law, with broad support from industry and advocates for children and privacy. The statute gave the Commission one year to issue rules to implement its privacy protections. On April 27, 1999, the Commission published a proposed rule in the Federal Register and requested public comment. Following a review of the comments, the FTC issued the final rule October 20, 1999, stating that the Rule's effective date of April 21, 2000 would give Web sites six months to come into compliance with the Rule's requirements.
In a related action, the FTC is seeking public comment on an application for safe harbor treatment under the Rule from the Children's Advertising Review Unit ("CARU") of the Better Business Bureau. The COPPA includes a "safe harbor" provision designed to encourage increased industry self-regulation in this area. Under this provision, industry groups and others may request Commission approval of self-regulatory guidelines that would govern participants' compliance with the Rule. CARU is the second organization to file for approval under the safe harbor provisions. The public comment period will last for 30 days.
Copies of COPPA, the FTC's implementing Rule, and tips for kids, parents and Websites are available at the FTC's web site at http://www.ftc.gov/kidsprivacy and also from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; toll free at 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357); TDD for the hearing impaired 202-326-2502. Copies of CARU's application for approval of its self-regulatory guidelines and the accompanying Federal Register notice can be found on the FTC's website at www.ftc.gov/privacy/safeharbor/shp.htm To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710.