Friday, February 22, 2008

Dad, what's a cookie? Complying with COPPA

Dear Rich: I have a question. I'm in charge of a website for our local elementary school. We have a program where students can upload their drawings. Someone told me that I have to get permission from the parents or else I am in violation of the law. Is that true? I'm so glad you asked. The law that you are probably referring to is the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). You need to be concerned about COPPA if your website is directed at children (under 13 years of age) and it collects information "that would allow someone to identify or contact the child," -- for example, names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, and similar information. COPPA also applies if you're using cookies (no, not the chewable kind) to track the child's activity. So, in the case of your website, you would want to be sure that the drawings that are uploaded do not contain personally identifiable information -- for example, the child's address is written on the drawing of a house, a license plate is written on a drawing of a car, or names are used to identify family members . If you are collecting personally identifiable information, you'll need to comply with the Act's requirement for parental permission. What's the biggest fine so far for violation of COPPA? $1 million.