Social Network for Kids Settles COPPA Charges with the FTC
The operator of an online social networking site has settled with the FTC over charges that it collected personal information from over 5,000 children in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”) 15 U.S.C. § 6501, et seq. Jones O. Godwin, an individual doing business as Skid-e-Kids, agreed to change his practices, pay a civil penalty, and submit to regular privacy assessments.
COPPA Requires Parental Consent
COPPA was enacted in 1998 to prohibit the unauthorized or unnecessary collection of children’s personal information by websites or online services. As authorized by the law, the FTC promulgated the COPPA Rule. 16 C.F.R. § 312. The Rule requires an operator of a website or online service directed to children under the age of 13 to make reasonable efforts to ensure that a parent of a child receives notice of the operator’s practices with regard to the collection, use, and disclosure of the child’s personal information. The Rule also requires an operator to obtain verifiable parental consent before any collection, use or disclosure of personal information from children, including consent to any material change in collection, use, or disclosure practices. 16 C.F.R. § 312.5(a).
FTC Claims Website Collected Information from Children
The FTC sued Godwin, as the operator of the website Skid-e-kids (at www.skidekids.com). According to the FTC, Skid-e-Kids was a social networking website directed to children aged 7-14, and promoted as the “Facebook and Myspace for kids.” FTC Complaint at ¶ 10. Children were required to register to use the site, and once registered, could create and update profiles, create public posts, upload pictures and videos, and become friends with other members. The FTC claimed that the “Skid-e-kids website specifically courts ‘tweenage’ children and their parents by promoting the site as ‘the social networking alternative for kids ages 7 to 14′ where ‘parents are in charge.’” Id.
The FTC claimed the site did not notify parents or obtain parental consent when children registered with the site, and did not ask for a parent’s e-mail address, notify a parent, or obtain parental consent prior to activating a child’s account. The FTC alleged that these practices violated the site’s privacy policies, and that the notice of information practices “did not clearly, completely, or accurately disclose all of Defendant’s information collection, use, and disclosure practices for children,” as required by the Rule. Id. at ¶ 16. The FTC also claimed Godwin did not provide parents with direct notice of his information practices, or obtain verifiable consent from parents prior to collecting, using, or disclosing personal information from children under 13, in violation of the Rule. The FTC alleged that Godwin’s actions constituted deceptive practices or acts in violation of the FTC Act. 15 U.S.C. § 45(a).
Website Operator Agrees to Civil Penalties
Godwin and the FTC entered into a Consent Decree and Order for Civil Penalties, Injunction and Other Relief (“Order”). The Order is a full settlement of the action, without any admission that Godwin violated the law. Under the Order, Godwin is enjoined from failing to disclose what information he collects from children online and to disclose his uses and disclosures of such information. Godwin also must provide notice to parents of the information he collects from children, and obtain verifiable parental consent before any collection, use, or disclosure of such information. Godwin must delete any information collected in violation of COPPA, and for a period of five years, place the following clear and conspicuous notice on any website or online service directed at children or which collects information from children:
NOTICE: Visit www.OnGuardOnline.gov for tips from the Federal Trade Commission on protecting kids’ privacy online
["www.OnguardOnline.gov" must contain a hyperlink to http://www.onguardonline.gov/topics/kids-privacy.aspx]
Order at ¶ 16. Godwin agreed to pay a civil penalty of $100,000; however, all but $1,000 will be suspended if he fulfills his obligations under the Order. Godwin must retain an objective, independent third-party professional to conduct annual privacy assessments for four years, certifying the effectiveness of his privacy controls.
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