As a parent, you have control over the personal information companies collect online from your kids under 13. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) gives you tools to do that. The Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, enforces the COPPA Rule. If a site or service is covered by COPPA, it has to get your consent before collecting personal information from your child and it has to honor your choices about how that information is used.
What is the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)?
The COPPA Rule was put in place to protect kids’ personal information on websites and online services — including apps — that are directed to children under 13. The Rule also applies to a general audience site that knows its collecting personal information from kids that age.
COPPA requires those sites and services to notify parents directly and get their approval before they collect, use, or disclose a child’s personal information. Personal information in the world of COPPA includes a kid’s name, address, phone number or email address; their physical whereabouts; photos, videos and audio recordings of the child, and persistent identifiers, like IP addresses, that can be used to track a child’s activities over time and across different websites and online services.
Does COPPA affect the sites and services my kids use?
If the site or service doesn’t collect your child’s personal information, COPPA is not a factor. COPPA kicks in only when sites covered by the Rule collect certain personal information from your kids. Practically speaking, COPPA puts you in charge of your child’s personal information.
How does COPPA work?
COPPA works like this: Let’s say your child wants to use features on a site or download an app that collects their personal information. Before they can, you should get a plain language notice about what information the site will collect, how it will use it, and how you can provide your consent. For example, you may get an email from a company letting you know your child has started the process for signing up for a site or service that requires your child to give personal information. Or you may get that notice on the screen where you can consent to the collection of your child’s personal information.
That notice also should have directions on how to give your consent. Sites and services have some flexibility in how to do that. For example, some may ask you to send back a permission slip. Others may have a toll-free number you can call.
If you agree to let the site or service collect personal information from your child, it has a legal obligation to keep it secure.
What are my choices?
The first choice is whether you’re comfortable with the site’s information practices. Start by reading how the company plans to use your child’s information.
Then, it’s about how much consent you want to give. For example, you might give the company permission to collect your child’s personal information, but not allow it to share that information with others.
Once you give a site or service permission to collect personal information from your child, you’re still in control. As the parent, you have the right to review the information collected about your child. If you ask to see the information, keep in mind that website operators need to make sure you are the parent before providing you access. You also have the right to retract your consent any time, and to have any information collected about your child deleted.
What if it looks like a site or service is breaking the rules?
Texting and Sexting
Sending or forwarding sexually explicit photos, videos, or messages from a mobile phone is known as "sexting." Tell your children not to do it. In addition to risking their reputation and their friendships, they could be breaking the law if they create, forward, or even save this kind of message. Teens may be less likely to make a bad choice if they know the consequences. Photos posted online and sex offender labels are two things that never go away.
- It May NOT be Private: Once you send the message or image, you do not control how it is shared. According to a 2008 survey conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 36% of teen girls and 39% of teen boys say it is common for nude or semi-nude photos to get shared with people other than the intended recipient.
- Personal Reputation and Safety: Socializing and sharing on-the-go can foster creativity and fun, but could cause problems related to personal reputation and safety. Use care when sharing photos and videos. Most mobile phones have camera and video capability, making it easy for children to capture and share every moment. Encourage children to get permission from the photographer or the person in the shot before posting videos or photos. It’s easier to be smart upfront about what media they share than to do damage control later. Use good judgment with social networking from a mobile device. The filters you’ve installed on your home computer won’t limit what children can do on a mobile device. Talk to your children about using good sense when they’re social networking from their phones, too.
- Encourage Manners: If your children are texting, encourage them to respect others. Texting shorthand can lead to misunderstandings. Tell them to think about how a text message might be read and be understood before they send it. It is easy to say something in texting that you would not have the courage to say to a person’s face. Sometimes, this means that it’s better left unsaid.
- Safeguard Privacy: Remind your children to ignore texts from people they don’t know, learn how to block numbers from their cell phone, avoid posting their cell phone number online, and never provide personal or financial information in response to a text.
Social Media Privacy
- Privacy Settings: Privacy and security settings exist for a reason. Make sure your children are aware of available privacy and security settings on their social media profile and discuss what should be a comfortable level of information sharing. Let them know that it’s ok to limit how and with whom you share information.
- Make Passwords Long, Strong and Unique: Talk to your children about the importance of a strong password. Combine capital and lowercase letters with numbers and symbols to create a more secure password. Passwords are private information and not to be shared with friends.
- Know and Manage Friends: Your children’s friends on social media should be people they know and trust. Some of the fun of social networks is creating a large pool of friends from many aspects of their life, but generally, a smaller group of known people is better. Make sure your children understand how to use tools to manage the information they share with friends in different groups or even on multiple online pages.
- We’re All in this Together: Teach your children to be aware of how much information they share about other people. All efforts to protect personal information can be useless if a careless friend shares too much.
- Keep Personal Information Personal: Talk to your children about the risks of putting too much personal information online. The more information they post, the easier it may be for a hacker or someone else to use that information against them by stealing their identity, accessing their data, or committing crimes such as stalking.
- Safer for Your Child, More Secure for All: What your children do online has the potential to affect everyone around them – their family, their classmates, and their community. Practicing good online habits benefits the global digital community.