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Is it time for online child privacy protection to grow up?

Do we need more protections from the government for websites that target children in their demographics?
Do we need more protections from the government for websites that target children in their demographics?

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In 1998, Apple interim-CEO Steve Jobs introduced the iMac, Google first filed for incorporation and Internet Explorer surpassed Netscape in the browser market. The Federal Trade Commission, recognizing that the internet could pose a danger to children, enacted the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) of 1998.

COPPA is now well into its tweens, and a lot has changed, including the introduction of iPads, apps and social networking. Technological advances now allow children’s websites like, and McDonalds’ to gather e-mails, photographs and other data without parental permission. With more and more tech-savvy kids commanding their own e-mail accounts, advocacy groups caution, stronger protections are long overdue. Last week a coalition of privacy and childrens’ rights organizations filed complaints with the FTC against six child-targeted websites that, they say, are violating COPPA with a number of marketing methods.

These include encouraging youngsters to upload photographs and videos of themselves, which are then publicly available on their websites, and using “tell-a-friend” strategies aimed at collecting a wider net of e-mail addresses – and customers. The groups are also asking for an update of COPPA to reflect a changing online world, with ever-more, ever-younger child involvement.

Do you trust the “child-friendly” websites your child visits? Do you know which ones are tracking his or her online activities? Are more government protections needed, or do you feel that COPPA can do the job as is?


Cara Wilking, senior staff attorney with the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston

Emma Llanso, policy counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology, a non-profit public policy organization advocating for internet freedom.