Does COPPA Apply to Your Web site?

BOSTON (05/15/2000) - ~If you have interactive features such as e-mail, chat or contests on your Web site, beware: Your site may fall under the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA), which went into effect last month.

Although it's geared toward kid-oriented Web sites, COPPA covers all commercial Web sites and online services that knowingly collect information from children under age 13. A general-audience Web site must meet COPPA requirements if it asks for users' birth dates or ages and any of its users are less than 13. The law also applies to sites that receive e-mail from users who identify themselves as children and sites where children post their age in e-mails, instant messages, bulletin boards or Web pages.

"There are a lot of general-audience Web sites that are not aware that they fall under COPPA. They think this is just a kids' statute," says Nancy Savitt, a partner with Aftab & Savitt PC, a New Jersey law firm that specializes in COPPA compliance. "If they collect information that's age-related on any forms or if they monitor message boards or chats and someone comes in and says 'I'm 12,' they now have actual knowledge . . . and they have to comply with COPPA."

Savitt says general-audience Web sites need to block children under 13 from signing up for interactive features until parental consent is received. Their banner advertisers can't collect personal information from children who click through from their site. And they need to monitor co-branded services such as online greeting cards that require personal information.

COPPA applies to individually identifiable information about a child that is collected online, such as full name, home address, e-mail address, telephone number or any other information that would allow someone to identify or contact the child. The law also applies to other types of information collected through cookies or other tracking mechanisms when it is tied to individually identifiable information.

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