FTC warns sites to comply with child protection law

The Federal Trade Commission has warned operators of children’s web sites that they could face lawsuits if they don’t comply with a recent law barring them from obtaining personal information from kids without first getting permission from parents.

The FTC checked several children’s sites to make sure they were in compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, which went into effect April 21. A quarter of the sites visited did not collect any personal information, but of the sites that did collect such data, roughly half had “substantial compliance problems,” according to the FTC.

“Protecting children’s privacy is a priority for the FTC,” said Jodie Bernstein, director of the agency’s Consumer Protection Division. “We intend to ensure that web sites collecting personal information from kids are complying with COPPA and that kids’ information is protected, not exploited.”

The sites warned by the FTC received an eMail informing them of the problem. An FTC statement in July said there are several COPPA-related investigations under way, but none of them have been made public yet. The agency plans to review the web sites again in September and may bring lawsuits against sites that still don’t comply with the law.

COPPA requires that web sites obtain “verifiable parental consent” before collecting, using, or disclosing any personal information, such as a name or address, from children under 13. Consent can be verified through postal mail or a telephone call.

The FTC also is developing several education initiatives, such as training programs for web site operators, publications for schools, and a web site dedicated to child privacy issues, the agency said.