Your Child’s Privacy – What is COPPA and Why Parents Should Care?

In thousands of households across America each and every day, 11 and 12 year olds are whining that they want an Instagram account, or Tumblr or Twitter.

internet-privacyInformed parents may know that the age limit, for users who are truthful when signing up for these networks, is 13 years old. The age limit is not put in place because the networks don’t want kids; they’d love to have them. The age limit is derived from the guidelines in the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which is 100% designed to protect minors’ personal information and privacy.

According to Wikipedia:

“[COPPA] applies to the online collection of personal information by persons or entities … from children under 13 years of age. It details what a website operator must include in a privacy policy, when and how to seek verifiable consent from a parent or guardian, and what responsibilities an operator has to protect children’s privacy and safety online including restrictions on the marketing to those under 13. While children under 13 can legally give out personal information with their parents’ permission, many websites altogether disallow underage children from using their services due to the amount of work involved.”

The 13-year age limit isn’t about whether the site’s content is age-appropriate; it’s about protecting young users from privacy violations, and by extension the sites from being prosecuted for such violations. You could make the argument that since it’s too much hassle for sites to get parental permission for younger kid users, the sites slap the 13 year age limit on there and hope younger kids who want to sign up lie about their age.

The issue for parents is whether you are comfortable knowing, or not knowing, what a site or network is going to do with your child’s email address, pictures, location data or other personal information.

COPPA was updated this month to reflect changing internet usage patterns, including increased mobile web browsing and the proliferation of social networks.

In a nutshell, if a website or social network invades the privacy of a minor under the age of 13, or otherwise improperly uses that minor’s personal information, parents can seek retribution via COPPA. If you allow your son or daughter, at 12 years or younger, to join a network whose age limit is 13, the remedies available under COPPA are not available to you.

The Federal Trade Commission’s website has a section titled “Protecting Your Child’s Privacy Online” which does a good job explaining COPPA and also has instruction for parents on what to do if they think a website operator is using their child’s personal information improperly.

Some very smart internet minds think that COPPA will fail. Whether it fails or not, as a parent you should take advantage of the protections that it offers. Does your 12 year old really need an Instagram account?


Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

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