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Don't Talk to Strangers

Don't Talk to Strangers

"Never talk to strange children" is a lesson Mrs. Fields Cookies recently learned the hard way. The Federal Trade Commission fined Mrs. Fields $100,000 for violations of the Childrens Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Each year, the FTC surveys hundreds of websites, warning those it considers non-compliant and occasionally bringing complaints for civil penalties.

How can you avoid running afoul of COPPA? The Act applies to operators of websites and online services directed to children under age thirteen that collect personal information from them, operators of general audience sites that knowingly collect personal information from children under thirteen, and operators of general audience sites with separate childrens areas that collect personal information from children under thirteen. Even apparently innocuous behavior could get you into trouble. Mrs. Fields, for instance, offered birthday clubs for children twelve or under, providing birthday greetings and free coupons.

To comply with COPPA, a website operator should offer notices to parents and obtain consent before collecting childrens personal information. Once gathered, the information should be kept confidential and secure, while allowing parents to access and delete their childs personal information. A privacy policy should be posted on the homepage and linked on every page where personal information is collected, and a childs participation in any activity should not be conditioned on the collection of any more personal information than the activity reasonably requires.

Perhaps the simplest way to ensure your website complies with COPPA is to take advantage of the safe harbor provision. Certain industry groups have been granted approval for self-regulatory guidelines designed to govern the compliance of their members. Such groups include TRUSTe and the Better Business Bureaus Childrens Advertising Review Unit. Or, contact a member of our IP Group if you have questions or concerns about whether your website is in compliance.