On April 21, 2000, the United States enacted a law called COPPA (Children's Online Privacy Protection Act), to help protect children online. While this law primarily impacts sites that collect information about their readers, especially when their readers are under 13 years old, most sites should be aware of the law and other privacy tools in use on the web.
COPPA Rules to Be Aware Of
Websites that are directed towards children under 13 must:
- get parental consent before collecting, using, or disclosing personal information about a child
- get new consent when the information collection practices change
- allow parents to review the information collected about their child
- allow parents to revoke their consent
For example, the About.com Web Design/HTML site is not specifically directed towards children under the age of 13, so technically, COPPA doesn't apply. But there are many sites on About.com that are geared towards kids, and so there have been many changes to those About.com sites.
But even if your site doesn't have to comply with COPPA, it's a good idea to follow it. If you do, you'll improve consumer confidence in your site.
There are two ways of handling parental controls:
- review by an independent group of the website(s) in question
- review by the web developer herself of their own website
There are problems with each method.
The first method means that there needs to be a "governing body" that is trusted and respected by the consumers to find and block objectionable material. This can be questionable at times, especially if that body is using generic terms to block sites. For example, at one point NetNanny was blocking www.whitehouse.gov because it mentioned the word "couple" in reference to the President and First Lady. Other programs have blocked sites related to breast cancer because of the word "breast" in the title.
The second method relys on honesty of the web developers. Perhaps you can see where the problem with that might be. :) Ironically, some sites self-rate as being for "mature" audiences in the hopes of getting more pageviews. But there are sites that have listed themselves as kid-friendly when they clearly are not.
Also, many developers don't put up any type of rating system. Some browsers solve this by not allowing access to any site without a rating (if parental controls are turned on). P3P and ICRA are just two different rating tools/codes that web developers can use to rate their sites.