Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act

Passed by the U.S. Congress in 1998, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) seeks to give parents control over how their children’s personal information is collected and used on the Internet. Although limited in scope and somewhat awkward to implement, COPPA has had a dramatic impact on both the online community and the children’s software industry in general.

Prelude to Regulation

Since the early 1970s, the U.S. database industry has consistently argued against government regulation, saying that “voluntary compliance” was cheaper, more flexible, more effective, and ultimately more in the interest of the American public. These arguments, combined with ample campaign contributions, have largely prevented the U.S. Congress from adopting legislation that would afford wholesale protections to the personal information of most Americans. Fortunately, the same is not true when it comes to protecting the personal information of America’s children.

With the birth of the consumer Internet in the mid-1990s, many businesses and marketing firms decided to use the technology as a way to bypass parents and reach out directly to the children of America. In some cases, web sites were created directly for the purpose of extracting personal information from children—information that would later be used to solicit the children to make purchases. In other cases, children were used as an intermediary for gathering financial or demographic information ...

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