Your child is online constantly, visiting sites and posting on social media. Every site they visit potentially collects data on your kids, often without their knowledge. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act was created to protect kids while they are online, and keep them from oversharing personal information.
What exactly is COPPA, and how does it protect your youngest users against sharing personal information online? First, let’s dive into a little background on why this legislation is so urgently needed.
Online threats against kids are on the rise
Kids between 8 and 12 spend between 4 and 6 hours a day online, while teens can spend 9 hours a day gaming, posting on social media, and browsing.
From viewing inappropriate content to oversharing personally identifiable information, kids are often the targets of bad actors whenever they go online. Some of these threats include:
- Identity theft
- Sexual exploitation
- Hidden charges
- Inappropriate content
- Encouraging kids to share personal information, including name, age, and physical location
…and no kid is immune from these threats
No matter how technically savvy your kids are, they aren’t fully protected from accidentally oversharing information or falling prey to a bad actor. Some startling facts include:
- 75% of children would share personal information online in exchange for goods and services
- 17% of children aged 12–15 admitted to accidentally spending money online
- 82% of kids spend time watching YouTube videos, which may include offensive and inappropriate content
The sources of data collection for children include streaming sites, spyware installed on personal devices, regular website browsing, gaming, apps, and social media platforms.
COPPA seeks to protect children from being coerced into divulging dangerous information or spending money for goods and services without parental approval.
What is COPPA?
COPPA, or the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, was first established in 1988 to help protect children from online threats. It largely applies to kids ages 13 and under. It is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission.
COPPA requires sites, including website content providers like videos, ads, plug-ins, and third parties to notify parents and get their approval before collecting any personally identifiable data.
What is Considered Protected Information Under COPPA?
Under COPPA, websites are forbidden from collecting protected information from kids. This protected information includes:
- Collecting a child’s first and last name
- Social security numbers
- Phone numbers
- Email addresses
- Geophysical location
- Any information regarding a physical address including a city and state
- Parent identifiers, including names and addresses
COPPA seeks to protect children from sharing any information that can be used to contact them physically or online.
What Are Websites Doing With Information They Collect From Your Kids?
Data collected on kids is primarily used in the same way as data collected on adults, and usually, it’s not for any purpose that benefits the Internet users. It’s all mined for sales and tracking purposes, such as:
- Targeted advertising, including pop-ups and ads seen on social media platforms and search engines
- Resale of collected personal data to third parties
- First and third-party tracking
As if this isn’t invasive enough, some gaming and social platforms attract online predators and identity thieves hoping to contact children for reasons far darker than data collection. There are an estimated 500,000 online predators active each day. An alarming 70% of kids encounter violence or sexually explicit content online, and 59% of US teens have been threatened or cyberbullied. By curbing the information a child can share online, these threats can be significantly lowered.
This is where COPPA shines!
COPPA applies to websites and online services that are directed at, or seek to collect information from, kids aged 13 and under.
To be fully COPPA compliant, these websites must:
- Allow parents to review any information shared by their children
- Post policies fully explaining what information is collected and how it is used
- Allow parents to block the collection and use of a child’s personal information
- Delete any personally identifiable information collected from kids after it has been used for its intended purpose
- Give parents control of the collection and use of the information, including disallowing it from being shared with a third party
- Notify and obtain consent from parents before collecting any personal information on children
- Ensure that information collected is only shared with other COPPA-compliant parties if sharing is necessary
What is Verifiable Parental Consent?
Verifiable parental consent is a key factor in COPPA compliance. Verifiable consent only occurs after parents are notified about personal information a website collected, and the exact purpose of collecting that information. This can be before collecting information, or as a notification after the information has been shared as part of a form your child is filling out online for game signups, an online service, or for a product they wish to purchase.
COPPA Compliance Exceptions
COPPA is a very effective measure to help ensure online privacy for your kids, but it isn’t foolproof. Parental consent isn’t needed if the kids are signing up for content that is distributed regularly, such as newsletters, for instance. Suppose a website operator has reason to believe a minor is in some sort of danger. In that case, they can collect information about the child and the child’s parents without the prior consent of the parent.
Additionally, all a website needs to do is label the site as 13+ to start collecting personal information from teens over the age of thirteen. Additionally, nothing prevents a child from deliberately evading the rule altogether and lying about their age to access restricted content or divulge information.
There have been debates over raising the age of COPPA compliance to 18 years to avoid some of these complications, but as it stands now, the rule still only applies to thirteen and under.
Tips for Keeping Your Kids Safe Online
COPPA is a great start for online protection, but there are some ways you can encourage safe online habits for kids of all ages.
Sharenting means staying actively involved in your kids’ online presence. It doesn’t necessarily mean spying, but it does mean encouraging your kids to come to you if they are feeling threatened or think they may have overshared information.
Take a minute to review all privacy settings on their social media platforms and encourage them to show you all friend requests before accepting them.
Teach your kids that if a deal seems too good to be true, it is too good to be true. Teach them to question everything they see or read online and never accept it at face value. Whether it’s a “friend” who seems a little too perfect, content that seems a bit sketchy, or a product that promises the world, make sure your child approaches every online interaction with a healthy dose of skepticism.
Monitor browsing history
This may seem a bit invasive, but it’s important to understand where your child goes when they log on. This doesn’t need to be a daily occurrence, but make sure to stay involved in checking your child’s browsing history and online habits. If you are concerned that your child is accessing inappropriate content, you may need to draw a hard line and discourage them from deleting their browsing histories by withholding online privileges
Parental control apps
Parental control apps such as Bark will block your kids from accessing harmful sites and monitor a child’s online activity. They can even be programmed to limit screen time.
As an extra layer of security, consider updating your router’s filter to block access from potentially harmful or inappropriate sites and set a time limit for browsing and screen time.
Don’t forget to enable notifications on your credit cards for usage to ensure your child isn’t using them online without your knowledge.
Parents love to brag about their kids online, whether it’s photographs or school accomplishments. You may not realize that cybercriminals and predators have a lot of experience connecting the dots–this information, while harmless in its intention, can open a door for contacting your child. Be aware of:
- Posting photos in front of easily identifiable buildings, such as school signs
- Sharing information regarding the age and grade level of your children
- Sharing too much information about extracurricular activities, including club names or sports team names
- Sharing your children’s names
- Posting a physical address for your home or your child’s school
Set the privacy levels of your social media platforms to friends, be cautious when accepting new friend requests, and be alert for new, unknown followers.
Between COPPA and teaching your kids to browse safely, you’ll find that your child has some protection from online threats. Make sure to speak to your child about potential threats, however, and encourage them to come to you with any perceived threat or accidental information over-sharing.