The Children’s Online Privacy Protect Act and FTC COPPA Rule associated with the Act can be very confusing. With this in mind, we’ve set out to provide general answers to a number of frequently asked questions regarding the law.
Q. What is the purpose of COPPA?
A: The purpose of the law is to make sure that the personal information of children is not collected and exploited by you or third party sites or services accessing data through your website. COPPA attempts to achieve this result by requiring websites, apps, and online services obtain verified parental consent to the collection of such information.
Q: What age limits are specified in the law?
A: The law applies to kids under the age of 13 pursuant to Chapter 15 of the United States Code, Section 6501(1).
Q. What is COPPA criticized so much?
A: While the law has a noble purpose, the FTC has issued two massive sets of regulations that are vague, outdated and require a significant COPPA compliance effort by business owners. While companies such as Disney can quickly deal with the expense and complexity of the law, smaller businesses and startups often are not so lucky.
Q. What agency enforces the federal COPPA law?
A. Congress charges the Federal Trade Commission [“FTC”] with enforcing the law pursuant to 15 United States Code Section 6501(3). However, states are given the option of bringing actions under the Act and have done so repeatedly. In 2014, for instance, Snapchat settled with Maryland over COPPA violations. New Jersey has also effectively pursued various mobile app companies as has Texas.
Q. What are the penalties for violating COPPA?
A: The FTC can seek damages of $40,000 per violation. Each child the business does not obtain parental consent for is considered a single violation. For example, the FTC could claim damages of $4,000,000 for a site with 100 kids under the age of 13 on it for which there is no parental verification. Sites that violate the law tend to have more than one child they fail to get parental consent from, which leads to huge damage claims.
Q. What is the largest COPPA fine to date?
A: The FTC has obtained numerous million dollar settlements. The largest settlement as of the date of this post is $3,000,000 paid by Playdom, Inc., a Disney subsidiary. The company ran online virtual worlds used by thousands of kids under the age of 13, but did not obtain parental consent for any of them. Other notable judgments include social networking app Path settling for $800,000, Xanga.com settling for $1 million and a Justin Bieber fan site also settling for $1 million for COPPA violations.
Q: Does COPPA apply to platforms other than websites, such as apps?
Q. Are there COPPA regulations?
A: Yes. The FTC has issued two major sets of regulations and occasionally publishes guidelines on how it will enforce certain provisions of the law. Unfortunately, these publications often are poorly thought out and add to the burden faced by businesses and even public schools seeking to comply with the law.
Q. How Is COPPA Pronounced?
A. The abbreviation is pronounced “cop” “pa”. We do, however, tend to use an Edward G. Robinson accent that sounds more like “copper”. The FTC does not endorse the gangster accent approach, of course, because government agency employees have no sense of humor.
Q. What is the difference between the FTC COPPA regulations and the FTC COPPA Rule?
A: There is no difference. The drafters of COPPA required the FTC to issue regulations for COPPA. The FTC did this, but calls the set of regulations the “Rule” and each regulation is a subsection of the Rule.
Q. Are there two COPPA laws?
A. Yes and no. The Children’s Online Privacy Protect Act is a federal law specifying the privacy requirements businesses must meet when collecting information from kids online – the law we are discussing on this site. California, however, also has a “COPPA” law. It is known as the California Online Privacy Protection Act, but is not focused on the privacy of children online.
Q. Is there any chance of COPPA being replaced with legislation that will be friendlier towards businesses?
A: Almost none. Although criticized frequently, there is no momentum to make any changes to the law or to replace it outright in Congress. Businesses simply must do their best to comply with the law.
There are obviously plenty of other questions that can be asked regarding COPPA, so don’t hesitate to contact us should you have any.