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Do It For The Kids

March 6, 2013


Does your company produce, publish, or host games? Could those games be accessed by children when they shouldn’t be?  Do you collect or ask for personal information from those children? If so, then you probably know that the protection of personally identifiable information related to those children is required by law, at least in the United States. For instance, there's the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, known as COPPA. It went into effect on April 21, 2000 and “applies to the online collection of personal information from children under 13.”

The act lays out things such as what must be included in a privacy policy, when and how to get “parental consent,” and other things online operators must do to protect the privacy and safety of children when interacting or using those operator's systems. The failure to comply with these mandates can result in fines being levied.

Regardless of what some hack on Wikipedia (who calls themselves an “editor”) thinks, this is a good thing.

The above is ken directly from the “Criticisms” section of the Wikipedia article dedicated to COPPA. Both paragraphs are factually inaccurate and misleading.

The first states that COPPA is “highly controversial.” Setting aside the fact that it’s a subjective and hard to measure statement, I am willing to grant the premise for the purposes of this blog post. Yes, COPPA is seen as controversial but not for the reasons stated. If the editor(s) would have actually bothered to read the journal article used as a citation for that statement, they would have found that it is not arguing that COPPA “attacks children's rights to freedom of speech, and self-expression” but is in fact criticizing COPPA because the law is not deemed to be effective. In fact the author of the article argues that “an overhaul of COPPA, providing for stricter regulation on collection and dissemination of personal information by websites themselves, is necessary to protect both children and teenagers from today's privacy threats.” (Emphasis added).

The other paragraph is just as bad. I can only assume that the statement that “Mark Zuckerberg...has expressed opposition to COPPA” comes from this portion of the article used as reference:

Nowhere in that paragraph, or the rest of the article for that matter, does Mark Zuckerberg express opposition to COPPA. And, the article itself is inaccurate because COPPA does not, in point of fact, mandate “that websites that collect information about users aren't allowed to sign on anyone under the age of 13.” What it does do, as has been stated earlier, is require parental consent. Again, a GOOD THING.

The fact is, COPPA is here to stay and it will only get better if companies that are under its purview, with the help of groups like TechFreedom and its president Berin Szoka, are willing to actively engage with lawmakers and technologists to make it better. COPPA is a minimum standard, a sort of “you must be this high to ride this ride” mandate for companies that actively court children and it's a good start. But more is needed. Use COPPA as a starting off point but spend the time and money to improve the collection and protection of private information for your under age users; actually do that for ALL of your users.

Not only will it keep the government from imposing fines against you, but will result in the gratitude and loyalty of parents and children, myself included. That gratitude and loyalty will result in more users and more users will result in more “winning” (how ever you define winning).

So, go out there and slay the dragons of online privacy, one kid at a time.

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