COPPA: All skidding aside

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It billed itself as “Facebook and Myspace for kids,” but according to a settlement with the FTC, the Skid-e-Kids website failed to meet critical compliance obligations under COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.  As a result, the FTC says the site collected personal information from about 5,600 kids without their parents’ consent.

Under COPPA and the FTC’s COPPA Rule, website operators like Skid-e-Kids have to notify parents and get their OK before the site collects, uses, or discloses personal information from children under 13.  The Rule also requires that operators post a plain-language privacy policy that’s clear, understandable, and complete.

The Skid-e-kids site — — courted “tweenagers” and their parents by promoting the site as “the social networking alternative for kids ages 7 to 14" where “parents are in charge.”  The website promised, “We ensure that our privacy policy and information practices adhere to the United States Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, other applicable data privacy laws and all other applicable legislation.”

Skid-e-Kids may have talked the talk — the site promised to send parents an email they’d have to use to activate their kid’s account — but the FTC alleged it didn’t walk the walk.  According to the lawsuit, parental notice wasn’t provided and consent wasn’t received.  As a result, kids were able to create profiles, post personal information, upload pictures, and send messages to other users, resulting in the unauthorized collection of their names, birth dates, email addresses, and cities of residence.  Thus, the FTC charged, the site violated COPPA and the deceptive claims in the privacy policy ran afoul of Section 5.

The order against Skid-e-Kids and the site operator bars future COPPA violations, requires them to tell the truth in the privacy policy, and calls for the destruction of all information collected from kids in violation of COPPA.  In addition, if the operator of Skid-e-Kids runs a COPPA-covered site, he has to retain an online privacy professional to provide periodic assessments or join an FTC-approved safe harbor program.  That provision applies for five years.  Skid-e-Kids also will post links to so visitors have access to tips on protecting kids’ privacy online.  All but $1,000 or the $100,000 civil penalty will be waived if the operator complies with the settlement’s oversight requirements and supplies accurate financial information to the FTC.

Looking for the latest on COPPA?  As part of its ongoing review of rules and guides, the FTC has asked for feedback on proposed revisions to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule.  The deadline for comments is November 28th.  Save a step by filing online.

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