Children’s Online Privacy Gets
Proving it means business, the FTC last month ordered three Web companies to pay a total of $100,000 for violating COPPA. In addition, the companies must delete all personal information they collected from children since COPPA took effect.
Despite the steep consequences, two recent studies show that many sites are still in violation of COPPA. “When it comes to their privacy policies, Web sites targeting children seem not to be taking COPPA very seriously,” says Joseph Turow, author of a study for the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. “One year after the passage of COPPA, we found more sites skirting COPPA requirements than following them carefully.”
One site that has tried to toe the line is iSeries shop ScoreBook.com, an Internet-based service for managing amateur sports leagues. The site has been running for eight months, so it’s been COPPA-compliant its entire life, says John Myers, ScoreBook.com corporate director. While still in the planning stages, ScoreBook contacted the FTC and spoke to an advisor. “We went to the FTC right up front; they were very helpful,” Myers says. “They sent us documentation, which we used to try to walk our way through what appeared to be a minefield. We explained our business model, and they said we’re fine.”
ScoreBook spent very little money to be in line with COPPA, but “there are firms that have spent $40,000 and up on COPPA issues and, quite frankly, some Web sites that COPPA pretty much drove out of business,” Myers says. And COPPA is putting a bit of a crick in ScoreBook’s future plans. ScoreBook will offer personal Web sites soon, but children under 13 probably won’t be able to participate. As ScoreBook tries to build more of a user community with a chat room and other features, it will likely exclude children. “We don’t like doing that, but in the scope of things, that’s the easiest way to handle it,” Myers says.
The problem lies with gaining parental consent. “It’s not an easy thing to do,” Myers says. “We’ve thought about charging one cent or something like that just to make sure we get a credit card number that links back to the parent, but we dismissed that. We have to draw the line somewhere.”
The other problem is that you can’t really control what kids do. If ScoreBook implements individual sign-ons, there’s little it can do to prevent children from fibbing about their ages, Myers says.
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