Marking the first anniversary of the effective date of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, the Federal Trade Commission announced settlements with three Web operators for violations of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA Rule). The FTC charged Monarch Services, Inc. and Girls Life, Inc., operators of www.girlslife.com; Bigmailbox.com, Inc., and Nolan Quan, operators of www.bigmailbox.com; and Looksmart Ltd., operator of www.insidetheweb.com with illegally collecting personally identifying information from children under 13 years of age without parental consent, in violation of the COPPA Rule. To settle the FTC charges, the companies together will pay a total of $100,000 in civil penalties for their COPPA violations. In addition to the requirement that these companies comply with COPPA in connection with any future online collection of personally identifying information from children under 13, the settlements require the operators to delete all personally identifying information collected from children online at any time since the Rule's effective date. These cases mark the first civil penalty cases the FTC has brought under the COPPA Rule.
The Web sites collected children's personal information for their own internal uses, enabled children to publicly reveal their personal information online without first obtaining parental consent, and, in the case of BigMailbox, provided children's personal information to third parties without prior parental consent. The FTC also charged that all three operators required children to disclose more personal information than was needed for participation in the activities involved, a practice that also violates COPPA.
In a related matter, the FTC announced that the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) has been approved as a "safe harbor" program under the terms of COPPA. Safe harbor programs are industry self-regulatory guidelines that, if adhered to, are deemed to comply with the Act. This is the second safe harbor application approved by the Commission. The Children's Advertising Review Unit of the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CARU), an arm of the advertising industry's self-regulatory program won the first COPPA safe harbor approval. The Commission vote to approve ESRB's safe harbor program was 5-0.
The Commission vote to accept the proposed Stipulated Final Judgments and Orders was 5-0. They were filed by the Department of Justice at the request of the FTC, April 18. They are subject to court approval.
NOTE: Stipulated Final Judgments and Orders are for settlement purposes only and do not constitute an admission by the defendant of a law violation. Consent judgments have the force of law when signed by the judge.
Copies of the complaints and consent orders 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, or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies worldwide.
(FTC File No. 002 3375 Monarch Services, Inc. and Girls' Life, Inc.)
(FTC File No. 002 3378 Bigmailbox.com Inc. and Nolan Quan)
(FTC File No. 002 3379 Looksmart Ltd.)
(Civil Action No. Monarch Services and Girl's Life (no number at press time)
(Civil Action No. BigMailbox -- Civ. Action 01-605-A (E.D. Va.)
(Civil Action No. Looksmart -- Civ. Action 01-606-A (E.D. Va.)
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