COPPA Changes Bring New Safeguards, Loopholes

December 20, 2012 Source: Mashable

Legislators on Capitol Hill went back to the drawing board recently when it comes to safeguarding children online. COPPA, or the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, has been on the books since 1998, but in the 14 year since its inception, little has changed to keep up with the Internet's hurried advancements. Under the helm of Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), the Senate Commerce Committee and FTC has introduced new regulations under COPPA meant to protect kids online from data tracking for marketing and advertising profit, according to MediaPost's Wendy Davis.

While COPPA expressly prohibited the collection of personal data of children under 13 surfing the web, the regulation previously only referred to personal data as contact information, i.e., addresses and phone numbers. The FTC's latest regulation also defines personal data as cookies, IP addresses, and more, which advertisers could previously use to profile and target children online.

Not everyone agrees with the latest changes to COPPA. Some, including advertisers, argue that the newest changes to the regulation move it away from its original intent – to protect children from physical danger.

“Ad industry groups generally said that the 14-year-old COPPA was aimed at preventing strangers from contacting children and placing them in physical danger,” Davis said. “They objected to the changes, arguing that cookies aren't comparable to phone numbers or street addresses because people can't use cookies to directly contact a child.”

But, what does COPPA have in store for social-networking sites (the vast majority of which weren't around when COPPA first came to Capitol Hill)?

Well, according to Mashable, collecting a child's personal data is only prohibited when expressly used for behavioral or data-driven advertising. So, sites like Facebook can still market to children with in-stream advertising that includes “content relevant to what's on a given page,” says Mashable's Alex Fitzpatrick.

But, with fuzzy language and ambiguous definitions, social-networking sties often ban users under 13 years old in lieu of complying to COPPA. However, with COPPA's new, even larger loophole for advertisers, will sites find cleverer ways to advertise to Internet-surfing tots?

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As I know according to COPPA provisions, an operator of a website directed at children must obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting or using any personal information from children visiting the website. In addition, the operator must also implement a reliable method for determining the age of the website's users, and whether any of the users are under the age of 13.

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