The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently issued updates to its frequently asked questions (FAQs) relating to the FTC's amendments to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which are scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2013.
The eagerly-awaited document includes 92 FAQs, which cover a wide range of issues, including advertising networks, app and plug-in developers, mixed-audience sites, and child-directed sites. This article summarizes the FAQ's important points.
General Questions about the Amended COPPA
In addition to providing a general overview of COPPA, the FAQs answer one of the most frequently asked questions with respect to the COPPA amendments--what is the FTC's position with respect to "legacy" information collected prior to the effective date of the amendments in the four new categories of information deemed to be personal information under the amended COPPA (i.e., geolocation information, photos or videos containing a child's image or audio files containing a child's voice, a screen or user name, and persistent identifiers). According to the FTC, operators who have collected geolocation data and have not obtained parental consent must do so immediately. In contrast, operators who have collected photos or videos containing a child's image or audio files containing a child's voice, or who have collected the newly covered screen or user names or persistent identifiers prior to the effective date, do not need to obtain parental consent (although the FTC encourages obtaining parental consent as a best practice). However, with respect to the latter two items, operators must obtain parental consent if the operator associates new information with the previously collected screen or user name or if the operator continues to collect new information with a persistent identifier, such as the child's activities on the Web site.
To the extent there was any doubt, FAQ 9 makes clear that COPPA applies to personal information collected online by operators of both Web sites and online services, and that the term "online service" broadly covers any service available over the Internet or that connects to the Internet or a wide-area network, including services that allow users to play network-connected games, engage in social networking activities, purchase goods or services online, receive online advertisements, or interact with other online content or services. Mobile applications that connect to the Internet, Internet-enabled gaming platforms, voice-over-Internet protocol services, and Internet-enabled location-based services are also considered online services covered by COPPA.
FAQ 14 acknowledges that the amended COPPA will not prevent children from lying about their age when registering for general audience sites or online services whose terms of service prohibit their participation, and indicates that an operator of a general audience site or service that chooses to age screen its users in a neutral fashion may rely on the age provided by users, even if that age is, in fact, inaccurate. FAQ 14 adds, however, that if an operator determines that a particular user is a child under the age of 13, then COPPA's notice and parental consent requirements will be triggered.