teacher with papers

Part One: COPPA Clarified

I thought about doing this post in a series of myths. However, there is so much confusion around this United States federal law I thought being straight up about it might be a better strategy.

The Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA) was enacted in 2000. It pertains purely to advertisers’ collection of information from children under the age of 13: “This part implements the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, (15 U.S.C. 6501, et seq.,) which prohibits unfair or deceptive acts or practices in connection with the collection, use, and/or disclosure of personal information from and about children on the Internet. The effective date of this part is April 21, 2000.” http://goo.gl/ZzO4d

This law does not say children cannot be advertised to. This law does not say sites collecting personal information from students in schools need to be blocked by content filters or educators. Quite simply, COPPA states that advertisers need to have parent permission to access children’s personal information. It also stipulates that school officials can act in place of the parent in giving this permission.

COPPA was written in 1998, leagues of time from today given large shifts in technology. The FTC released proposed revisions to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection (COPPA) Rule on September 15, 2011.  The full text of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, along with the accompanying press announcement, can be found at: http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2011/09/coppa.shtm.

Additional information about the proposal can be found on the Business Center Blog at: http://business.ftc.gov/blog/2011/09/ftc-unveils-proposed-coppa-changes-comment. Comments may be filed online at: https://ftcpublic.commentworks.com/ftc/2011copparulereview through December 23, 2011. In reading the proposed changes I have found that the law is merely being updated. There are no gross changes in how it operates or the ideas behind why action was taken in the late 1990s.

teacher with papers

Teacher with Papers by Old Shoe Woman on Flickr

In Oregon, we’ve always used the stipulation in COPPA stating that as teachers we can equalize access to resources by acting in place of the parent. Here’s a section from the FTC website:

“COPPA allows teachers to act on behalf of a parent during school activities online, but does not require them to do so. That is, the law does not require teachers to make decisions about the collection of their students’ personal information. Check to see whether your school district has a policy about disclosing student information.” http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/tech/tec10.shtm

Federal Trade Commission Seal

Federal Trade Commission Seal

I’ve always trusted that the law was behind me as an educator in this respect and have never once felt like I was personally at risk for acting in place of the parent. That may be naive, but if they want to sue me for something like this I think, “Bring it on”! If I’m proactive with policy, conversations, training and classroom management the chance of problems decreases significantly. I’m quite thankful for COPPA legislation. Since 2000, COPPA has given me a great starting point to talk to audiences about its purpose and the necessity of educating young people about media literacy. As people in the two IT camps (information and instructional) we have been standing behind this law and its cousin, CIPA and using them as an excuse for not giving kids access for far too long.

Corin Richards

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