Federal Internet Law & Policy
An Educational Project
Children's Online Privacy Protection Act Dont be a FOOL; The Law is Not DIY

  Who Must Comply
  What is Required
    Parental Consent
    Sliding Scale
    Parental Review
    Data Security
  "Personal Info"
  Giving Away Stuff

Congressional concern over children’s privacy led it to passage in 1998 of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)[16 CFR Part 312]. [See Privacy Introduction for background] More information can be found online at the FTC’s Children’s Privacy website.

Who Must Comply With COPPA?

One falls under the requirements of COPPA if you

Child mean an individual under the age of 13;

Note: Pursuant to Executive Memo M-00-13, all Federal agencies and their contractors must comply with COPPA.


If one falls into one of the two above categories, one falls under COPPA.  In order to comply with COPPA, one must conspicuously post a privacy policy on the website indicating what data is collected and what is done with it, obtain verifiable consent of the child’s parent, and provide parents the opportunity to review the data collected.  Parents get to revoke their consent and tell online services that they may no longer use and must delete information about their children.  Online services must give parents the option to consent to the information gathering without permitting disclosure of the data to third parties.  If the site makes a material change to the privacy policy, the that site must get consent from all of the parents all over again. Online services must also institute a program to ensure the security and integrity of the data that they collect.

FTC rules set forth specific requirements for compliance with COPPA including what constitutes sufficient notice of your privacy policy and what constitutes parental consent.  The mechanisms of parental consent can take into consideration available technology.  They include digital signatures, a signed form returned by mail or fax, the use of a credit card, or having a parent telephone into a properly trained staff.

Privacy Policy Notice:

Those falling under COPPA must conspicuously post a privacy policy on their website indicating specifically the following: [16 CFR § 312.4] [COPPA Sec. 1303(b)(1)(A)(i)]

What data is collected The description should be specific, such as "names, addresses, and email addresses," and not the vague "contact information." All data collection techniques must be indicated including the use of passive techniques such as cookies and other identifiers. Notice should indicate all active and passive data collected. [16 CFR 312.2 (defining "collection)]

What will be done with the data Is it for internal transaction purposes such as delivering an ordered book or toy; will it be used for marketing; will it be used for customer service analysis and improvement of the service? Will the information concerning the child be displayed publicly such as in a chat room? Will the information be disclosed [16 CFR 312.2 Definitions: disclosure] to third parties [16 CFR 312.2 Definitions: Third Parties]- if so, then the policy most provide complete information on who the third party is, what they will do with the information, and whether the third party will maintain the security and integrity of the data?.

Collection Limitations: Notice should indicate that the operator of the service cannot condition the participation of a child in an activity on the provision of any more information than necessary for that activity. 16 CFR 312.7

Parental rights: Inform parents that information cannot be collected from their child absent their consent. Inform parents how that consent shall be collected and verified. The notice should also indicate that parents have the right to review the data and the procedures for how this can be achieved.

Contact Information: The policy must include contact information for everyone involved at the site collecting information (in other words, some sites are a collaboration of multiple entities. If they are collecting information, then their contact information must be included). Contact information includes name, mailing address, telephone number, and email address. If there are multiple operators involved in the site, the website may elect to designate and list only one point of contact of the group. Nevertheless, the identification of all other operators must still be listed. [16 CFR 312.2 Definitions: Online Contact Information]

The policy must be clear and understandable, and not in legalize or other jumbled and confusing dialects. Hawking your wares (and other extraneous information) in your privacy policy is a sufficient way of making it confusing and is not permitted.

A link to the privacy policy must be posted on the homepage and on every page where information is gathered.

The link must be "clear and prominent" (terms of art for the FTC - in other words, these terms have very specific and well developed meaning). Wee little links at he bottom of the page do not cut it. "Conspicuous" means the link must stand out. This may mean a larger font, a different color font, a different font, or some other means of making the link jump out of the page at the viewer. This also means that the link must be appropriately labeled. Something like ""Legal Notices" is a loser. Examples of appropriate labels include "Privacy Policy," "Privacy Statement," or "Information Collection Practices Statement."

Parental Consent:

Verified parental consent must be obtained from the parent or guardian prior to information collection. If material changes are subsequently made to the privacy policy, consent must again be obtained from all parents. Parents have the right to consent only to the collection of information for purposes internal to the website, without permitting the information to be shared to third parties. [16 CFR § 312.5] [COPPA Sec. 1302(2)(9))]16 CFR 312.3

The mechanisms of parental consent can take into consideration available technology. They include digital signatures, a signed form returned by mail or fax, the use of a credit card, or having a parent telephone into a properly trained staff.

Sliding Scale:

To make things a bit complicated, the FTC has a sliding scale of requirements.  Temporarily, if a website is using the personal information only for internal purposes, the site can seek confirmation from the parent via e-mail - or confirm the consent by letter or phone call (the FTC is considering whether to transform this temporary rule into a permanent rule).  If, however, the website desires to disclose the information to third parties, the site must use more reliable means of gaining consent, such as those listed in the previous paragraph.

One area of significant concern is monitored online communities such as email groups or chat rooms.  If the community targets children or if the visitor reveals that the visitor is a child, then the operators of the community must comply with COPPA.  One action the community monitor can take is to strip out all personal information from the messages prior to permitting them to be posted.  This is sufficient and does not require further parental consent.  Operators may elect, instead of stripping out such material, to gain the consent of parents for their children's participation.  These rules do not apply to unmonitored communities.  This is likely to pose a significant challenge to monitored communities that do not target children and are not accustomed to COPPA who are suddenly confronted with a message that states, "Hi, my name is Tommy, I'm in the 6th grade and I am doing a research project..."

"In conducting the Rule review, the Commission sought comment on whether the sliding scale set forth in § 312.5(b)(2) remains a viable approach to verifiable parental consent.[238] Under the sliding scale, an operator, when collecting personal information only for its internal use, may obtain verifiable parental consent through an email from the parent, so long as the email is coupled with an additional step.[239] Such an additional step has included obtaining a postal address or telephone number from the parent and confirming the parent's consent by letter or telephone call, or sending a delayed confirmatory email to the parent after receiving consent.[240] The purpose of the additional step is to provide greater assurance that the person providing consent is, in fact, the parent. This consent method is often called “email plus.” [241]

. . . . .

"The Commission is persuaded by the weight of the comments that email plus, although imperfect, remains a valued and cost-effective consent mechanism for certain operators. Accordingly, the final Rule retains email plus as an acceptable consent method for operators collecting personal information only for internal use. Nevertheless, the Commission continues to believe that email plus is less reliable than other methods of consent, and is concerned that, twelve years after COPPA became effective, so many operators rely upon what was supposed to be a temporary option. The Commission is also concerned about perpetuating for much longer a distinction between internal and external uses of personal information that the COPPA statute does not make. Thus, the Commission strongly encourages industry to innovate to create additional useful mechanisms as quickly as possible." 78 FR 3971 (2013)


Parental Review:

Online services must provide parents with access and the right to review information collected about their children. Parents have the right to revoke their consent and tell online services that they may no longer use and must delete information about their children. An operator's method of compliance with these requirements may not be unduly burdensome on the parents. [16 CFR § 312.6] [COPPA Sec. 1303(b)(1)(B)]

Data Security and Retention:

Online services must institute a program to ensure the security and integrity of the data that they collect. [16 CFR § 312.8] [COPPA Sec. 1303(b)(1)(D)]

16 CFR 312.10: "An operator of a Web site or online service shall retain personal information collected online from a childfor only as long as is reasonably necessary to fulfill the purpose for which the information was collected. The operator must delete such information using reasonable measures to protect against unauthorized access to, or use of, the information in connection with its deletion."


At issue with COPPA is the collection of personal information.  Personal information means individually identifiable information and includes a first and last name, a physical address, an e-mail address, screen name, or other online identifier, a telephone number, a social security number, IP Number or a cookie or other persistent identifier. [COPPA Sec. 1302(8)] [16 CFR 312.2 Definitions] [See also CPNI, ECPA] It also means any additional information collected from the child in combination with any of the above items.  In other words, once a firm has collected personal information from a child, all additional information collected is likewise infected.  In order to fall under COPPA, this information must be collected online (if, for example, the visitor prints off a form and then mails in the information, it would not then fall under COPPA).

Note that if the information a site wants to collect is not on the above list (and a website that does not target children), then that site can collect it without falling under the restrictions of COPPA. It is, for instance, possible to conduct surveys of visitors to a site and not fall under COPPA as long as no part of the survey asks for personally identifiable information.  The survey can even ask age as long as it does not ask, for example, for the visitors name or set a cookie.  If a site wants to set up some silly online poll of the masses asking who should win this years academy awards or who will be elected President, the site could do this and not fall under COPPA as long as that site is not asking personal questions.

"The Commission believes the description permits operators to use anonymous screen and user names in place of individually identifiable information, including use for content personalization, filtered chat, for public display on a Web site or online service, or for operator-to-user communication via the screen or user name. " 78 FR 3971 (2013)


There are a number of exceptions to COPPA which permit online sites to interact with visitors without the consent of parents.  They are as follows: 

There is another interesting "exception" known as safe harbors.  These are industry self regulation programs that are submitted to the FTC for approval.  If approved, then those members who are certified as complying with that program are deemed to be in compliance with COPPA.  The entity seeking FTC approval of their self regulation program will have to provide assurances to the FTC that the integrity of the program will be maintained. [COPPA Sec. 1304]


I visited a webpage recently where it asked me for personal information.  My own personal privacy protection program is "garbage in, garbage out."  I love filling out these forms and always fill them with all types of rubbish.  Anyway, when it asked me what year I was born, I unthinkingly hit "1999."  The website, citing COPPA, refused to gather any further information from me.

This is a viable option.  Age information is not defined by COPPA as personally identifiable information.  A site can ask the age of the visitor without having to comply with COPPA further. If the visitor is under the age of 13, a viable option is to refuse to collect any personally identifiable information.  If that information is necessary in order to provide your online service, the site may decide not to offer services to children under the age of 13.


If a site is running online contests, there is a more specific rule, as this was one of the areas of greatest abuse.  An operator of an online contest targeted at children is permitted to gather only sufficient information from the visitor that is reasonably necessary for the visitor to participate in the activity.  In other words, no asking for mommy and daddy's salary in order to win a free t-shirt. [16 CFR § 312.7]

© Cybertelecom ::