COPPA: Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act Filing

July 1, 2010 For those mumbling, “COPPA schmoppa, there goes Amy into policy wonk land, please translate media jargon into usable tidbits” I’ll offer a few primers…

What is COPPA? Why do we need it? (see for an interactive show-n-tell which all ages can grok for an ‘aha’ moment on food and beverage marketing targeting kids in the digital age) Who are some of the key advocates involved with COPPA?

And…for those who have been waiting on pins and needles to hear what new roles and rules are taking shape with mobile, video game and behavioral ad marketing to kids, the COPPA coalition has provided an update (summary here) to keep the FTC abreast of the ever-expanding spectrum of targeting kids as it pertains to privacy protections and digital (er, human) rights. This was a huge discussion at the Ypulse 2010 Mashup as marketers, academic researchers and tween moderators/online community leaders grappled with compliance, ethics, and ‘what ifs’ to try to get a handle on loopholes that need closed, as well as misinterpretations of age restrictions and residual fallout from a policy and practices standpoint.

Here’s the full release, the gist of the filing, and what the COPPA coalition specifically asks the FTC to do:

Rules Required for Behavioral Ads, Mobile Marketing and Video Game Targeting

For Immediate Release: July 1, 2010 Washington, DC

Full filing pdf found on Center for Digital Democracy

“A broad coalition of child advocacy, health, consumer, and privacy groups is urging the Federal Trade Commission to update and clarify its children’s online privacy rules to ensure the continued effectiveness of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in the contemporary digital marketplace.

In formal comments submitted to the Commission, the groups called for a number of specific changes in the COPPA rules designed to address the growth of mobile phones, interactive games, and more sophisticated tracking and targeting technologies. Among the seventeen groups jointly submitting the comments were the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, and the World Privacy Forum.

Congress enacted COPPA in 1998, with strong bipartisan support, in order to protect the online privacy of children under the age of 13. The FTC’s rules for implementing the law went into effect in 2000. This spring the Commission launched a comprehensive review of the rules, “in light of rapidly evolving technology and changes in the way children use and access the Internet.”

“For the past decade, COPPA has served as an effective safeguard for young consumers in the online marketing environment, establishing a clear set of rules of the road that have helped guide the development of children’s digital culture,” explained Prof. Kathryn C. Montgomery of American University, who led the campaign to enact the legislation during the 90s.

“Though the law took effect in the early formative period of Internet marketing, it was purposely designed to adapt to changes in both technology and business practices, with periodic reviews by the FTC to keep the rules up-to-date. With the changes called for in these comments, COPPA will continue to ensure that children reap the benefits of the digital age without compromising their privacy, safety, and wellbeing.”

“The Commission should enact new rules for COPPA that draw upon its current investigations into behavioral marketing and other current digital advertising practices,” said Jeff Chester, Executive Director of the Center for Digital Democracy. “It’s time for the FTC to do a better job of protecting the privacy of children online, especially given the dramatic growth of new techniques for tracking and targeting them through mobile phones, video games, and virtual worlds. This review of COPPA by the Commission is a test case for the agency.”

Finally, the groups urged the FTC to develop a separate set of privacy protections for children 13 and older. Although adolescents’ use of and response to media may differ from that of their younger peers, teens are no less vulnerable to marketing, the comments explained:

(Amy’s footnote: This highlighting of the OVER 13 age group changes is my own, as this seems to be the grey area of fuzzy feedback/scare tactics flinging about re overt regulation)

“Many teens go online to seek help for their personal problems, to explore their own sexual identities, to find support groups for handling emotional crises in their lives, and sometimes to talk about things they do not feel comfortable or safe discussing with their own parents. Yet, this increased reliance on the Internet subjects them to wholesale data collection and profiling.”

Commenters made it clear that the COPPA model of parental consent would not be appropriate for adolescents. However, they did call for a set of Fair Information Practices for teens in line with those developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

“Policy should focus on protecting data, and regulating data collection and use, rather than discouraging teens from participating online,” the groups argued.

In addition to the Center for Digital Democracy, the organizations filing the comments today included the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Benton Foundation, Berkeley Media Studies Group, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Children Now, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Consumer Watchdog, National Consumers League, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Public Health Institute, U.S. PIRG, and World Privacy Forum. Prof. Angela Campbell and Guilherme Roschke at the Institute for Public Representation, Georgetown University Law Center, served as legal counsel.

Again, the filing is available via:

Now for the ‘cliff notes’ version to see what’s on the table at a glance:

The COPPA coalition specifically asks the FTC to:

• Extend COPPA’s privacy protections to mobile phones, online gaming consoles, interactive television, and other new digital platforms that are increasingly used by marketers to track and target children.

• Update its definition of “personal information” to reflect contemporary marketing practices in which persistent cookies, IP addresses, geo-location data, and even seemingly anonymous combinations of data such as age, zip code, and gender can be used to identify and target individuals.

• Use the criteria developed for its 2008 report to Congress on food marketing to clarify the definition of websites and online services “directed at children” in the COPPA rule. These criteria include audience demographic data (i.e., when 20 percent or more of a site’s visitors are between the age of 2 and 12), and content characteristics (e.g., child-oriented, animated or licensed characters or celebrities highly popular with children; language such as “kid,” “child,” “tween,” or similar words; models or characters who appear to be younger than age 13.)

• Close the loopholes on when and how a website can contact children multiple times without obtaining parental consent, and to investigate whether some marketers are circumventing COPPA’s intent by using this exception to the rules to engage in ongoing data collection and personalized marketing.

• Require major websites, ad networks, social networks and other online service operators to periodically inform the FTC about their data collection practices.

• Investigate the efficacy of Safe Harbor programs and require operators to reapply for continued authorization.

More on all of this from an analysis perspective later, this is “just the facts”…

Also, a huge shoutout for a must-read on a SEPARATE BUT RELATED note, regarding online chat. Community safety advocate Izzy Neis asks “Is There Such Thing as 100% Safe Chat for Kids?” which is a wise and worthy peek behind the scenes about  moderation, media literacy, and raising kids in our digital times. The lady speaks the truth. With candor, substance and style. Don’t miss it.

A Few Related Privacy/Data Posts on Shaping Youth

Iger the Ignorant: Disney Chief Says Kids Don’t Care About Privacy?

Keeping Kids Safe From Predators (er, marketers) Part 1

Privo Privacy Fault: How Safe is Kids Digital Data? Part 2

Childrens Digital Privacy Advocates Show FTC Watchdogs Aren’t Woofin’

Youth Data Mining 101: Privacy Breaches, Opt-Outs, ToolBar Add-Ons

Digital DataMining 101 EchoMetrix Takes Kids’ Pulse

Facebook, Can You Hear Me Now, Your Peepin’ is Creepin’ Me Out!

Dare to Share? What’s Your Beacon Story? (Part 2)

My Data is My Data: Putting Choice Back Into Social Media

Digital Marketing Tactics Revealed to FTC:

Related Interest: Online Moderation/Chat/Safety/Ethics

Kids Online Unconference, Balancing Safety & Fun

Internet Safety: Media Literacy Tips from Industry Insiders Part 1

Online Safety/Tips From the Inside Out (eModeration) Part 2

Cyberbullying/Internet Tragedies Intervention/Moderation Part 3

Shaping Youth Part One: Are Game Cheats a Misnomer?

Shaping Youth Part TWO: Kids, Gaming Ethics & Immersive Virtual Worlds

Shaping Youth Part Three: Community Solidarity Online

NetFamilyNews Posts Cyberbullying Statistics; ConnectSafely Forum Helpful

Harris Interactive Research: How Bullying is Shaping Youth Savvy

SXSW: Teen Docu-Drama & Digital Doings+New Online Abuse Study



  1. Interesting read, thanks! I finally see the larger picture 🙂

  2. I agree with privacy of under 13yo being protected – and this should be extended to all adults.

    I do however have issues with suggesting that online advertisising of cola, pizza, candy and burgers is the issues. Parental responsibility and education lay a bigger role. Allowing our kids to get fat and then avoiding telling them that they are, is a big issue. Also not providing balanced meals at home and school + a 5 a week exercise regime has as much to do with it.

    The common practice of kids to rejecting fruit and vegetables because ‘they don’t like them’ and allowing kids to say ‘i don’t do exercise’ and driving them everywhere.

    Putting some junk food in your body is only one element of the equation. We need to start telling our kid openly they are obese, medicating exercise regimes… and most importantly, if the parents are obese this will have more of an effect on the child’s weight than a few burger ads.

    I grew up with burger and cola ads everywhere – i know that if that is all I eat I will get fat. There has to be an element of self-choice guided by education. If they still refuse to eat properly and exercise then they get all they deserve – an early death.

Speak Your Mind