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FTC Adopts Amendments to the Child Online Privacy Protection Act

In 1998, Congress passed the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”) to ensure online privacy for children under the age of thirteen. Under this Act, online operators must obtain parental consent before they begin to collect information about online users under the age of thirteen. The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) implements and enforces COPPA. In December 2012, the FTC adopted the first significant amendments to COPPA since the inception of this federal law in 2000.

In 2010, the FTC began to review the terms of COPPA to determine whether changes in the cyber community would require amendments to the Act. The FTC felt that COPPA would potentially require amendments in order to keep pace with the fast-changing nature of the Internet. Before drafting any such amendments, the FTC invited interested businesses and third parties to communicate their suggestions for changes that would help improve this law. After this process, the FTC adopted three significant changes to the Act.

First, the FTC expanded COPPA’s reach to include applications, plug-ins, and advertisement networks that could potentially gather personal information about children under the age of thirteen. Although, this was a controversial addition to COPPA, the FTC was able to compromise by indicating that COPPA will only apply to these online operators if the operator is aware that it is collecting information about children. Next, the FTC expanded COPPA substantially so that it applies to a wider range of personal information subject to the Act’s regulations. Under the 2012 amendments, “personal information” now includes online contact information such as instant messaging usernames, voice over Internet protocol (“VOIP”) identifiers, video chat user data, any other screen names that serve to identify users individually. The Act will also cover “persistent identifiers,” which include IP addresses, profile pictures, or audio files that contain a child’s voice. Finally, the FTC has revised the acceptable means of obtaining parental consent. Pursuant to COPPA, online operators must obtain parental consent before collecting personal information about a child. Under the 2012 amendments, these online operators can now accept consent by a parent’s use of an online payment system, by a parent’s confirmation through video conference with trained personnel, and by verifying a parent’s identification with government-issued identification. These amendments aim to protect children’s privacy in the quickly changing environment of online operators and in light of the constant advancements in the Internet community.

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