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Today, the Federal Trade Commission announced that Aristotle International, Inc. (Aristotle) has been removed from the list of self-regulatory organizations that police for compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Operators of websites and online services that paid Aristotle fees to participate in its self-regulatory program can no longer receive favorable regulatory treatment.

“The FTC will no longer allow self-regulatory organizations to flout their obligations under Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act rules. Aristotle will no longer be recognized by the FTC as an approved Safe Harbor program,” said Samuel Levine, Acting Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. “There is a clear conflict of interest when self-regulatory organizations are funded by the website operators and app developers they are supposed to police, so we will be closely scrutinizing other children’s privacy oversight outfits to determine whether they are living up to their obligations.”

Aristotle was one of seven FTC-approved Safe Harbor organizations and is the first to be removed from the list of FTC-approved children’s privacy self-regulatory programs since the COPPA Rule went into effect two decades ago. The COPPA Rule requires that operators of commercial websites and online services directed to children under the age of 13, or general-audience websites and online services that knowingly collect personal information from children under 13, notify parents about their information practices and obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting, using, or disclosing any personal information from children under the age of 13.

Organizations such as Aristotle operate self-regulatory COPPA “safe harbor” programs that certify compliance with the FTC’s COPPA Rule. In order to get FTC approval to operate their programs, such organizations must have guidelines that provide the same or greater protections for children as the COPPA Rule. They also must have an effective and mandatory mechanism in place to conduct independent assessments of member organizations’ compliance with the program guidelines. Companies certified as members of a safe harbor program are deemed to be in compliance with the COPPA Rule. The Commission approved Aristotle to operate a COPPA Safe Harbor program in 2012.

As part of its oversight of the COPPA Safe Harbor program, the FTC warned Aristotle earlier this year that the agency was concerned Aristotle may not have sufficiently monitored its member companies to ensure they were complying with its guidelines, as required by the COPPA Rule. After receiving an inadequate response from Aristotle, FTC staff told Aristotle that it planned to recommend that the Commission revoke its approval of the company’s safe harbor program. On June 1, Aristotle notified Commission staff that it was withdrawing from the COPPA safe harbor program.

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Peder Magee
Bureau of Consumer Protection