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Modified online children's privacy rules take effect in US

Grant Gross | July 2, 2013
Some websites and mobile app developers are confused about how to comply with revised rules governing the online collection of personal information from children that took effect in the U.S. Monday, critics said.

The new rules also strengthened data security protections by requiring that covered website operators and online service providers take reasonable steps to release children's personal information only to companies that are capable of keeping it secure and confidential.

COPPA allows civil penalties of up to US$16,000 per violation.

Privacy advocates praised the new rules.

"In essence, children ... are the only group of U.S. consumers who have at least some protections against the onslaught of digital marketing," Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said in an email. "As you know, junk food marketers are in the forefront of targeting kids and teens with powerful online campaigns."

Chester's group plans to "monitor the market very closely" for compliance, with the focus on large digital services such as Disney and the Cartoon Network, he said. The CDD has also published a parent's guide to the COPPA rules.

At Reed's ACT, the trade group is working with a group called Moms With Apps to help app developers adopt privacy practices and comply with the new COPPA rules. The ACT/Moms with Apps Know What's Inside campaign, launched Monday, will allow app developers to display a privacy seal if they comply with recommended best practices.

A big remaining question is whether parents will use the tools they're given to protect their children's privacy, Reed said. More parental education is needed, and some parents need to take a more active role in managing their children's data, he said.

"What are we going to do on the parent education side?" Reed said. "Ultimately, no matter how sleek or clever or awesome the tools we make are, if parents don't understand them or use them, they will fail."


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