It looks like someone at the Federal Trade Commission is finally getting serious about child privacy and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Yesterday details of a fine levied on local review site Yelp were revealed – to our knowledge the first of its kind in over a year – relating to charges that were apparently handed down back in April.
Yelp has agreed to pay a $450,000 fine for collecting names and email addresses from children under the age of 13 (and therefore violating COPPA) without notifying parents. In Yelp’s words:
“Yelp recently reached a settlement agreement with the Federal Trade Commission regarding a bug in our mobile registration process that allowed certain users to register with any birth date when it was supposed to disallow registrations from individuals under 13 (birthdates on Yelp are optional in the first place, so users are always free to register without one).”
From a parents’ standpoint, this should not make anyone feel better. The statement “birthdates on Yelp are optional” speaks to the fact that they don’t really care how old users are, and therefore are willing to violate the spirit of COPPA in their quest to amass more users and more reviews.
While rarely enforced as strictly and with as steep a penalty as was the case here, it’s not like COPPA is an impossible law to comply with. Firms such as PRIVO (disclosure: ThirdParent is a PRIVO Referring Member/Partner, and that’s a good thing) offer a free and easy way for parents to preapprove and stay on top of which sites and networks their kids are signing up for online.
As we have written before, we’d like to see a broader and more current set of Federal laws that not only protect children’s online privacy more effectively than COPPA does, but that also address children’s online safety. Until then, we’ll be watching with interest to see whether this case is a one-off, or part of a more concerted effort by the FTC to step up enforcement where kids’ online privacy is concerned.
Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.