Skid-e-kids, a social networking site which advertises itself as the “Facebook and Myspace for kids,” recently entered into a consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regarding alleged violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). This latest social networking should send a strong warning to all website operators regarding the potential pitfalls of collecting site visitors’ information without strict screening. In addition, because COPPA applies not just to website operators, but also to operators of mobile applications, many applications operators should be on notice of the implications of the Skid-e-kids Consent Decree.
COPPA requires that website operators notify parents and obtain their consent before collecting personal information from children under age 13. This is required not only for ostensibly “children’s sites”, but also for any website whose operators have actual knowledge the site is collecting information from children under age 13. A website operator may have actual knowledge of a user’s age, for example, if it asks for, and receives, information from which age can be determined, such as by asking “What grade are you in?”
Pursuant to the Consent Decree, Skid-e-kids must (i) delete all of the personal information it obtained from children without parental consent, (ii) provide a link to online privacy educational material and (iii) retain a privacy professional to oversee compliance for a period of time. Further, the Consent Decree imposes a $100,000 civil penalty on Skid-e-kids – although payment of all but $1,000 of that penalty will be suspended provided Skid-e-kids complies with the Consent Order’s oversight provisions and its operator provided truthful financial information.
The FTC is currently accepting comments on proposed changes to the COPPA rule. Among the potential changes are expanding the definition of “personal information;” allowing children to participate in some interactive communities without parental consent so long as certain conditions apply; developing new parental consent mechanisms; and strengthening the oversight of the “safe-harbor programs.” Written comments on the proposed revisions are due to the FTC by November 28, 2011.
- Nancy Perkins and McCormick Conforti