Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)

You’re well aware that operating in the digital landscape demands a strong understanding of various privacy laws, not just for your sake but for the safety and privacy of your audience.

Among these, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act stands out as one of the most vital pieces of legislation to grasp, especially if your online activities could possibly interact with minors.

COPPA was designed with a single objective: to safeguard the personal information of children under 13 who are navigating the online world.

At the time, the internet was still in its infancy, but lawmakers had the foresight to recognize that this new frontier posed unique threats to the youngest members of society.

The core aim was to give parents the authority to control what information is collected from their children online.

In this article, I am going to explain what COPPA is, why it matters, and how it can impact your online business. Let’s get started.

  • COPPA is a vital piece of legislation that aims to protect the online privacy of children under 13 by setting rules for how personal information is collected, used, and disclosed.
  • Businesses that target children under 13 or knowingly collect information from them must comply with COPPA or face substantial fines and legal consequences.
  • Compliance with COPPA requires obtaining verifiable parental consent, implementing clear privacy policies, respecting data subject rights, and establishing strong data security procedures. Regular review and updates are essential for ongoing compliance.

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What Is the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)?

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) aims to protect the online privacy of children under the age of 13. It sets rules for how online platforms can collect, use, and disclose personal information from young users.

If you run an online business, you need to know this U.S. federal law as it spells out some key rules. COPPA places a strong emphasis on obtaining verifiable parental consent before gathering any personal data online like names, emails, or addresses from children. It also requires clear and comprehensive privacy policies to be in place.

COPPA applies to website operators and platforms that either target children under 13 years or knowingly collect information from them, regardless of whether they are based in the United States or elsewhere.

Non-compliance with this law can result in substantial fines and legal consequences, making it a crucial legal framework for those operating online.

PRO TIP: Regularly review and update your privacy policies to ensure they align with COPPA requirements and consider implementing user-friendly mechanisms for obtaining verifiable parental approval.

What Are the General Definitions of COPPA?

To ensure compliance with COPPA and protect children’s privacy and safety online, it’s essential to know the key terms and concepts used within the law. These definitions lay the foundation for understanding how this privacy protection act applies to your services and helps you comply with its requirements with confidence.

  • Child: Under COPPA, a child is defined as an individual aged under 13 years old.
  • Operator: An operator refers to any person or entity that owns, operates, or controls a service that collects data from children.
  • Products or Services Directed at Children: This includes platforms designed primarily for children, with the knowledge that they are collecting information from kids. It can also include websites with a mixed audience but primarily targeting children as their audience.
  • Personal Information: COPPA defines personal information broadly, covering details like a name, email address, physical address, phone number, or any other information that can be used to identify or contact a child. A user or screen name that acts as online contact information, a Social Security number, and a video, photograph, or audio file that contains a child’s voice or image or voice are also considered personal information.
  • Verifiable Parental Consent: COPPA requires you to obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting any personal or otherwise sensitive information from a child. This consent is a critical safeguard for children’s privacy.
  • Privacy Policy: You must have a clear and comprehensive privacy policy that explains their information collection practices, how they use the data, and the rights of parents to review and delete their children’s information.

Failing to correctly interpret these definitions and implement them in your online practices can result in COPPA violations. Make sure you clearly understand these terms to avoid potential legal consequences.

Who Does COPPA Apply To?

COPPA applies to any businesses and online services that collect personal data from children under 13 years old. This includes mobile apps, games, social media platforms, software, third-party services like ad networks or plug-ins, etc. In addition to that, it also applies if you meet the following criteria:

  • Your target audience is children under 13 years of age and you gather their information.
  • Your target audience may not be explicitly geared toward children under 13, but you have concrete awareness or actual knowledge that you are gathering details from this demographic.
  • Your platform is operated by the Federal Government or a contractor on behalf of a federal agency.
  • Your platform is based outside the US but you process the data of children in the US.

It’s important to note that COPPA has a broad reach and can apply to various online entities. While it primarily applies to websites and online services based in the United States, it can have extraterritorial reach in some cases. Specifically:

  • Foreign-Based Services Targeting US Audience: If you are based outside the USA but intentionally directed to children in the United States and knowingly collect personal information from children, you may be subject to COPPA requirements.
  • Collection of Data from Children in the USA: Even if a foreign-based service is not specifically targeting children in the US if it collects personal information online from children who are US residents, COPPA may still apply.

PRO TIP: Conduct a thorough review of your website’s audience demographics. Understanding your user base can help you determine whether you may be subject to COPPA requirements, even if you operate outside the United States.

Key Principles and Provisions of COPPA

COPPA’s general goals and values include protecting the privacy and personal information of children, respecting the rights and choices of parents, and ensuring the security and integrity of the data. These requirements are explained further below.

Protecting Children’s Privacy and Their Information

Companies must not collect, use, or disclose any details from children without verifiable parental consent unless an exception applies. This aims to prevent them from exploiting or harming children by obtaining or sharing their information without their parents’ knowledge or permission.

Respecting the Rights and Choices of Parents

Companies must provide clear and prominent notice of their information practices to parents, allow them to review, correct, or delete their children’s personal information, and refuse further collection or use of such information. The goal is to empower parents to make informed decisions about their children’s online activities and to exercise control over their children’s information.

Ensuring the Security and Integrity of the Data

Companies must establish and maintain reasonable procedures to protect the confidentiality, security, and integrity of the personal information of children that they collect. Its purpose is to safeguard the personal information of children from unauthorized access, use, or disclosure by operators or third parties.

PRO TIP: Remember that complying with COPPA is not a one-time task but an ongoing commitment. Even if you’ve taken initial steps to comply, regularly review and update your practices to adapt to evolving online landscapes and emerging technologies.

What Are the Data Subject Rights Under COPPA?

Under COPPA, children and their parents or legal guardians have specific rights regarding the collection and use of personal information online. These rights include the right to notice, approve, review, delete, refuse further collection, and opt-out.

Here are the explanations of these data subject rights under COPPA:

The Right to Notice

Parents or legal guardians have the right to receive clear and complete information about how a platform collects and uses their children’s personal data.

This notice should be easy to understand and should explain what data is being collected, why it’s being collected, and how it will be used.

The Right to Consent

Before any data is collected from a child, parents or guardians must provide their verifiable consent. This means that parents need to actively agree to their child’s data being collected, which ensures they are aware of and comfortable with the information-sharing.

The Right to Review

Parents or guardians have the right to see what details have been collected from their child. This allows them to check and ensure that the data being collected is accurate and appropriate.

The Right to Delete

Parents or guardians can request the deletion of data from the service’s records. You must promptly remove this information from its database.

The Right to Refuse Further Collection

At any time, parents or guardians can refuse further collection or use of personal information. If they change their mind about data collection, the operator must stop gathering any additional information.

The Right to Opt Out

Parents or guardians can opt their child out of receiving marketing communications or additional services from the platform. With this right, parents can control the kind of interactions and messages their child receives, as well as ensure a safer online experience.

These data subject rights allow parents and legal guardians to take an active role in managing their children’s online privacy. They help make sure that their personal information is handled responsibly by businesses, all in accordance with COPPA regulations. You must respect and facilitate the exercise of these rights as part of COPPA’s requirements.

PRO TIP: Think of COPPA as an opportunity, not just an obligation. By prioritizing children’s privacy, you not only comply with the law but also build trust with parents. This trust can translate into brand loyalty and positive word-of-mouth, potentially expanding your user base.

How Can Businesses Comply With COPPA?

To comply with COPPA, businesses must understand their audience, secure parental consent, and maintain clear privacy policies. They should also implement age verification, respect opt-out requests, train staff, and regularly update practices.

Establishing strong data security procedures and staying informed about COPPA changes and Federal Trade Commission enforcement are also important for complete compliance.

Below are further details of these key steps you can take to comply with COPPA:

  • Understand Your Audience: Determine if your websites or online services attract children. This can be based on the content, design, language, and subject matter. If your platform targets or knowingly engages with this age group, you must be compliant.
  • Create a Clear Privacy Policy: Create a concise and easy-to-understand privacy policy that outlines your data collection practices. State why you collect data, how it will be used, and who will have access to it. Ensure this policy is easily accessible on your website, typically through a prominent link in the footer or menu.
  • Obtain Verifiable Parental Consent: If you’re collecting children’s personal information online, ensure you have proper parental consent. This usually involves a multi-step process, such as sending an email to the parent with a verification link or using a toll-free number for parental consent.
  • Implement Age Verification Mechanisms: Age-verification mechanisms help prevent children from accessing areas of your service that collect personal details without proper consent. These mechanisms include age gates or pop-up dialogs.
  • Provide Notice to Parents: Clearly inform parents about your data collection practices. Use plain language to explain what data is being collected, why, and how they can provide consent or request more information. You can place this notice in a prominent location, often near the parental consent request.
  • Allow Parental Review and Deletion: Parents should be able to review the data you’ve collected from their child. If they find inaccuracies or wish to have the data removed, be prepared to promptly comply with their requests.
  • Respect Opt-Out Requests: Respect parents’ wishes if they choose to opt their child out of marketing communications or additional services. Provide clear and easy-to-follow opt-out procedures.
  • Establish and Maintain Reasonable Data Security Procedures: Your data security procedures must be appropriate and effective in safeguarding the information of children. Consider implementing robust security measures, such as encryption, access controls, and regular security audits, to prevent data breaches or misuse. Also, regularly assess, audit, and update these procedures to address emerging threats and ensure ongoing compliance with COPPA. This helps identify and rectify any compliance gaps or issues.
  • Train Staff and Ensure Compliance: Train your employees on COPPA requirements and self-regulatory guidelines to ensure that everyone involved in data collection and management understands and complies with the law.
  • Keep Up to Date with Changes in COPPA and FTC Enforcement: Stay current with any updates or changes in COPPA regulations and enforcement actions by the FTC. This ensures that your reasonable efforts to comply remain effective and in line with the requirements of this children’s online privacy protection rule.
  • Participate in Safe Harbor Programs (Optional): Consider joining FTC-approved COPPA safe harbor programs if they align with your business model. These programs offer alternative ways to achieve COPPA compliance while maintaining the same level of protection for children’s privacy.

With these practices, you can demonstrate a strong commitment to complying with COPPA regulations, protecting children’s privacy and safety online, and staying responsive to evolving legal requirements and enforcement actions.

A privacy policy with plain and easily understandable language is more accessible to parents. This helps ensure they fully understand how their child’s information will be handled.

Who Enforces COPPA?

COPPA is enforced by the FTC or Federal Trade Commission in the United States. This agency is entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring that businesses and entities adhere to COPPA’s regulations and fulfill their obligations to safeguard children’s online privacy, as mandated by the law.

The FTC conducts investigations to identify instances of non-compliance with COPPA. When violations are detected, the FTC takes a range of actions, including imposing civil penalties, seeking injunctive relief to halt harmful data collection practices, and addressing ongoing violations through legal means.

This underscores the FTC’s commitment to upholding the integrity of COPPA and holding violators accountable for their actions.

Furthermore, the FTC has the authority to designate and oversee safe harbor programs under COPPA. These programs provide businesses with valuable guidance and certification mechanisms to achieve and maintain compliance with the law.

By participating in FTC-approved safe harbor programs, businesses can navigate COPPA’s complexities more effectively and ensure that they are protecting children’s online privacy in accordance with the law.

PRO TIP: Treat FTC enforcement as a reminder, not a threat. Proactively align your practices with COPPA before the FTC gets involved. Prioritize children’s privacy, and you won’t just avoid penalties, you’ll earn respect and trust from your users and their guardians.

What Are the Penalties for Violating COPPA?

Violating COPPA can lead to significant penalties, including civil penalties, injunctive relief, additional legal actions, reputation damage, and even remediation costs.

  • Civil Penalties: Civil penalties can be imposed when a business or entity is found to have knowingly violated the COPPA rule. The court can hold operators accountable for civil penalties of up to $50, 120 per violation of COPPA. The exact penalty amount may depend on factors, such as the severity of the violations, previous violations, the number of affected children, the type and amount of collected data, its usage, sharing with third parties, and the company’s size. The determination of the penalty is made on a case-by-case basis.
  • Injunctive Relief: Injunctive relief is typically sought by the Federal Trade Commission or FTC when a business is engaged in ongoing violations of COPPA. It can include court orders requiring the business to cease collecting data from children or to modify its data practices and privacy policies to align with COPPA requirements. The aim is to immediately stop the harmful data collection practices and prevent future violations.
  • Additional Legal Actions: Additional legal actions may be initiated by individuals, advocacy groups, or affected parties who believe that COPPA violations have harmed them or their children. These actions aim to hold violators accountable for any damages caused by non-compliance and can result in financial penalties, court-ordered remedies, or settlements.
  • Reputation Damage: Reputation damage can occur when a business’s COPPA violations become public knowledge. This can result in the loss of consumer trust and damage to the brand’s reputation. A damaged reputation can lead to decreased customer loyalty, reduced user engagement, and potential loss of business opportunities.
  • Costs of Remediation: Remediation costs are incurred when a business is required to make changes to its data collection, privacy policies, and security measures to align with COPPA. These costs can be substantial, involving legal fees, IT investments, and ongoing compliance efforts. They are necessary to comply and avoid further violations.

Following COPPA’s rules is essential to prevent these penalties and the associated legal, financial, and reputational consequences. It is critical for businesses to understand and adhere to COPPA’s regulations to protect children’s online privacy effectively.

PRO TIP: Protecting your brand isn’t just about marketing; it’s about ethical practices. Prioritize COPPA’s rules not just to avoid penalties but to shield your brand from reputation damage.

Examples of COPPA Fines

Among the companies that have faced fines or settlements due to violations of COPPA regulations are TikTok, formerly known as, and YouTube.

In February 2019, the FTC fined TikTok a record $5.7 million for illegally obtaining personal information from children without obtaining parental consent. This social media app was found to have knowingly collected data, such as names, email addresses, and location information from young users, even though they were below the age of 13.

As part of the settlement, TikTok agreed to implement significant changes to its data collection practices, including obtaining parental consent, and to pay the fine.

In September 2019, Google, which owns YouTube, agreed to pay a $170 million settlement with the FTC and the New York Attorney General for alleged COPPA violations on YouTube.

The FTC claimed that YouTube had gathered data from children without parental consent through the use of tracking cookies. Many child-directed videos on the platform also carried behavioral ads without proper disclosure.

In addition to the fine, the settlement required YouTube to implement measures to obtain parental consent and create a separate platform for child-directed content with no behavioral advertising.

The stories of TikTok and YouTube teach us that COPPA enforcement doesn’t discriminate by size or fame. Whether you’re a social media giant or a small online business, COPPA’s reach is far-reaching. Take proactive steps to ensure your practices align with children’s online privacy laws. Vigilance today can save your brand from costly fines and reputational damage tomorrow.

How Does COPPA Compare to Other Data Privacy Laws?

COPPA is unique in its focus on protecting the online privacy of children in the USA. While it shares common goals with other US data privacy laws, its specific focus and mechanisms distinguish it from many other data privacy regulations worldwide.

  • Age Emphasis: COPPA specifically targets children under 13 and requires verifiable parental consent for data collection from this age group. In contrast, many other data privacy laws, like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or California’s California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), do not specify age thresholds for data protection.
  • Parental Consent: COPPA places a strong emphasis on obtaining verifiable parental consent before collecting any information from children. In comparison, some other laws rely on the consent of the data subjects themselves or include provisions for adult consent.
  • Safe Harbor Programs: COPPA offers the option for businesses to participate in FTC-approved “safe harbor” programs, which provide alternative compliance methods while maintaining children’s privacy protections. Similar mechanisms are not always present in other data privacy laws.
  • International Scope: Some data privacy laws, like the GDPR, have international applicability that impacts businesses worldwide if they process data of EU residents. On the other hand, COPPA primarily applies to companies based in the United States or those specifically targeting children in the US.
  • Penalties and Enforcement: While COPPA can impose significant penalties for violations, enforcement often depends on the FTC. Meanwhile, other global laws may involve multiple data protection authorities and can result in substantial fines for non-compliance.
  • Data Subject Rights: COPPA grants specific rights to parents and guardians regarding their child’s data. Other laws may focus on data subject rights, allowing individuals to access, rectify, or delete their personal information, regardless of age.

While COPPA may seem less global in scope, don’t underestimate its enforcement power. The FTC watches closely, and violations can lead to substantial penalties. Ensure that your understanding of COPPA is as robust as your knowledge of other data privacy laws to avoid costly missteps.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is COPPA?

COPPA is a US-based law that safeguards the online privacy of children under 13 by regulating the collection of their personal information on online platforms.

What is the purpose of COPPA?

COPPA aims to protect the online privacy of children under 13 by regulating how personal information is collected and used by online platforms.

Who does COPPA apply to?

COPPA applies to website operators and platforms that either target children under 13 or collect information from them, regardless of their location.

What are the data subject rights under COPPA?

Children and their parents have rights such as notice, consent, review, deletion, refusal of further collection, and opt-out regarding the collection and use of personal information.

How can businesses comply with COPPA?

Businesses can comply with COPPA by understanding their audience, obtaining parental consent, maintaining clear privacy policies, implementing age verification mechanisms, and staying updated on COPPA changes.

Who enforces COPPA?

COPPA is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the United States, which investigates violations and takes actions such as imposing penalties and seeking injunctive relief.

Andreea Mare
Andrea is a data protection and privacy specialist with many years of education and expertise in this area of law. She helps clients by ensuring compliance is reached on all levels while taking into account the legal requirements and their business' needs.