Marketing to Kids Online Requires Following Special Rules

Parents, children and educators all generally agree that the Internet can, and does, play a positive role in enriching children's lives.

But the benefits are clouded by the specter of pornography, predators and commercialism. Addressing those concerns, the U.S. has passed the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) to regulate the personal data that can be collected on websites aimed at or accessed by children under the age of 13.

The rules are overseen by the Federal Trade Commission, which uses several factors to determine whether your website is directed at children, including:

If your website meets the guidelines, you must follow the rules or face severe fines.

But don't worry, making your site compliant is fairly straightforward. Here are a few tips to make your Web pages acceptable:

Privacy Policy

You must have a clear policy on your site with links from the home page and any page where you collect personal data from children. If your site attracts a general audience but has a children's area, you must link to the policy from the homepage of that area.

Make the link prominent, clearly written and understandable. The FTC suggests using larger fonts or different colors on a contrasting background to ensure that it stands out. Don't think you can place a link in small print at the bottom of the page —- or a link that's indistinguishable from other links on your site. The FTC specifically warns against that.

Your written policy must include:

Parental Consent

You must get parental consent to gather the data and parents must be able to retract the permission, review the data collected, and have information deleted at any time. The law offers a sliding scale approach for verifying parental consent, based on the reason the data is being collected:

Exceptions: Under certain conditions you can collect a child's email address without parental consent. The exceptions cover many popular online activities for kids, including contests, online newsletters, homework help and electronic postcards.

Given the potential damage to your bottom line and your reputation, complying with COPPA is sensible. Consult with an attorney to ensure that your company is following the rules to the letter.

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