The Federal Trade Commission recently announced that a social networking website for children agreed to settle charges that it violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. The site collected the first and last names, the dates of birth, and the cities of origin of its 5,600 underage users. All of this is illegal under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA. The law requires websites to attain parental consent before collection personal information from children under 13.
The website, Skid-e-kids, calls itself a “Facebook alternative” for children ages 7 to 14. The website’s homepage says, “It is very safe, fun and educational. It is strictly designed to give your children the excitement of being on Facebook, without exposing them to all the negative things that comes with an open social network like Facebook and others. On Skid-e-kids, the parents are in charge, they have special features that allow them to instantly view all the friends and activities of their child.” The FTC claims that these proclamations of safety are irrelevant if the site is collecting kids’ info without parental consent.
Although protecting children online is important, a recent article on the New York Times Bits Blog points out that the law may be particularly hard to enforce. “Case in point: Despite Facebook’s official policy barring children under 13 from creating accounts, independent studies have repeatedly shown that millions of children lie about their age in order to register for Facebook, and some do it with help from their parents.”
It seems that age restrictions do little to deter children from registering with websites. Many are able to easily circumvent the rules themselves, and those who aren’t often receive help from a parent. In light of this, what can be done to ensure the privacy of children is protected online? Clearly the honor system isn’t working. Join the discussion by commenting below and letting us know what steps you think should be taken to ensure children are safe online.