Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) was created by the Federal Trade Commission in 1998 and is one of the first instances where the government took action to try to create some sort of legislation to protect the privacy and safety of children in an online space. At this time, the world wide web was gaining more and more popularity and slowly intertwining itself as a necessary part of our daily lives. COPPA is a rule that states that certain criteria be met by operators of sites and services provided via the Internet who target their services to children of all ages up to 13 years old. The Act aims to protect children’s personally identifiable information (PII) by prohibiting nefarious use, collection, and disclosure of said data. The information collected can include the name, home address, email address, phone number, geo-location, and online activity tracking data for the child. Among other requirements, COPPA dictates that companies who collect data about children in this protected age range obtain parental permission to access a child’s information prior to the collection of it; additionally, the rule favors parents’ interest in data collection by requiring companies to provide parents with the following upon request:
- Notice of the company’s information practices;
- The means to review the information collected about the parent’s child(ren);
- The opportunity to stop any continued use of PII which that has already been collected;
- The opportunity to prevent continued collection of the child(ren)’s PII.
This Act is considered relatively devise, as many things are when it comes to children. It is seen by some as being strict and infringing on children’s ability to navigate the Internet, especially by YouTubers whose content is either made for kids or whose content might be seen by both kids and adults alike (known as mixed audience). Content will be considered made for kids, and consequently restricted by COPPA requirements, if:
- Children are the primary targeted audience of the content, or;
- Children are not the main intended audience for a video, but the content is still indirectly directed at children; this sort of content includes videos which feature actors, characters, activities, games, songs, stories, or other subject matter that displays an intent to reach online users who are aged 13 and under.
It is seen by some critics as being an archaic law, as it was created before the rise of things like social media and video streaming platforms; this act is the reason we will see many sites requiring the minimum age for its users as being 13, to avoid the rule altogether. Some parents are not fans of this age restriction, citing that they are capable of supervising their own children while they operate on the Internet and that they trust their children to do the right thing. Others dislike the law for a very different reason.
Not Strict Enough
A separate group of individuals are against COPPA, but their argument is the exact opposite of those in the “too strict” camp. These opponents of COPPA argue that the rule is too flimsy and easily breakable, making it difficult to enforce. Despite the age requirement rule of having only users 13 years of age and up being held by many websites in an attempt to avoid COPPA restrictions, quite a large proportion of parents allow their children to use social media, with nearly half of parents with kids aged 10-12 reporting that their child uses social media.
While the intent of COPPA is good - protecting children on the Internet - it sounds like people on both sides of this issue find that something else needs to be done when it comes to child privacy online. A famous quote attributed to Mother Teresa goes: “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” As a parent, you can and should take cybersecurity for your children into your own hands by taking a few key steps:
- Be sure that you educate yourself on the various sites your child is interested in using
- Create a plan for safe navigation of these sites for your child
- Ensure you communicate your expectations, boundaries, and concerns with your child(ren) regularly in order to foster an environment of privacy and safety that is right for your family while operating online.
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