Keeping your children safe when they are online

All Things Legal

By Jane M. Winand, Legal Assistance Attorney

As a parent in today’s internet-based society, it is a challenge to maintain some control over your children’s activities online.

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, COPPA, gives parents the tools needed to control the personal information that companies collect online from children under the age of 13.

COPPA requires every website, online service or app that is either specifically directed to children under 13, or knows it is collecting personal information from youngsters that age, to notify parents directly and obtain parental approval before collecting, using or disposing of a child’s personal information.

The personal information covered by COPPA includes the child’s name, address, phone number, email address and physical location, as well as photos, videos and audio recordings of the child. In addition, COPPA protects persistent identifiers like IP addresses that can be used to track the child’s activities online over time.

When your child wants to download an app or uses features on a site that collects their information, COPPA kicks in. Before the child can use the app or feature, a notice in straight-forward language will appear, either on the screen or through an email, indicating what information will be collected, how the information will be used and how you can consent.

The notice should also link to a plain-language privacy policy that details the kind of information the site collects and what it might do with the information. That includes targeting your child with marketing advertising or giving or selling the information to other companies.

The privacy policy should state that those other companies are also required to keep your child’s information safe.

You may provide your consent by responding to the notice and clicking on a permission slip that is included or by calling a toll-free number.

If your child insists on downloading an app “that ALL the other kids have,” as a parent, you have some choices. First, carefully read the app’s or website’s information practices statement and privacy notice and make sure that you are comfortable with how the company will use your child’s information.

Second, consider providing only limit consent. For instance, you might allow the company to collect your child’s personal information, but not permit it to share that information with other companies.

Third, if you do give permission for the collection of your child’s personal information, you have the right to review the information collected.

Furthermore, you can revoke your consent at any time and also request that any information collected about your child be deleted from the company’s database.

If you think that a website or app has collected information from your child in violation of COPPA, immediately report it to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov, the nation’s consumer protection agency tasked with enforcing COPPA.

You can also call the Fort Meade Legal Assistance Office at 301-677-9504 or 301-677-9536 to schedule an appointment with an attorney. The office is located at 4217 Morrison St., first floor, Office of the Staff Judge Advocate.

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