How To Keep Your Children Safe Online

Navigating through the murky waters of online privacy can be a difficult task. Without a background in information technology it can be challenging to understand what information websites are collecting, and how they are collecting it. Most online users assume that websites collect basic information such as name, email address, and phone number. However, users are often surprised to find out that some websites and apps can access location, photos, videos, and audio as well. This is an alarming revelation considering the frequency with which children are now using technology. With the simple click of a button, a child can allow an app access to private photos and videos of them stored on their device.

 

Aside from forbidding technology use altogether, how is a parent able to protect their children’s privacy in an online world? Luckily, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) was enacted in 1998 specifically to protect children online. Unfortunately, enacting a law doesn’t always mean every company will abide by it. In order to effectively protect children’s online privacy, it’s important to understand the associated laws and what can be done if companies fail to comply.  

 

What Is COPPA?

 

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) was put into place in 1998 to protect the personal information of children under the age of thirteen. Under this act websites, apps, and other online services require parental consent prior to collecting, using, or disclosing a child’s personal information. The type of personal information that these websites and apps collect varies from a simple email address to information as personal as the user’s location.

 

Under COPPA, children’s websites must inform parents about the types of information being collected, what it will be used for, and how to provide consent. These types of notifications should also provide a link to a privacy policy with more detailed information regarding information collection and use. The requirements are slightly flexible regarding the way companies handle parental consent. Providing consent could entail calling a toll-free number or sending an attached consent form to an email. Once consent is given the company has a legal obligation to keep it secure.

 

What Precautionary Steps Can Be Taken?

 

It is up to parents to be vigilant and read over the privacy policies of the websites their children use. It is important not only to understand the type of information the website plans to collect, but also how it will be used. Some websites collect information solely to create a better gaming experience for children, while others do so for marketing purposes.

 

Parents that are worried about a website potentially sharing their child’s collected information with other companies can consent to the collection, but not the sharing of information. It’s also important to remember that once consent is given it is not permanent. COPPA ensures that parents maintain control at all times. This means parents are able to review information collected from their children, revoke consent, and have the information deleted at any time. Websites that do not comply with the guidelines set out in COPPA should be reported to The Federal Trade Commission.

 

Although technology can be a useful tool for both teaching and distracting children, it’s crucial to supervise their use. The harmless use of a children’s website or app can become precarious when a child unintentionally allows access to photos or clicks on a pop-up. Thankfully, most children’s websites abide by COPPA’s guidelines and with parental supervision can be a safe and fun way to promote learning.

Kali Muir is an ambitious freelance writer with a BA in Communications. She was born in Canada but has since lived in Norway, Denmark, and England. Her work experience is as diverse as her past addresses, including roles in technical communication, corporate communication, marketing, and article writing. She has experience working in varied business sectors: Oil & Gas, Engineering & Technology, Clothing & Equipment Retail, and Creative Writing. Follow Kali’s professional and personal journey at www.kalimuir.com, or connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Photo credit: IntelFreePress via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

 

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