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COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) is an American law–enforced by the Federal Trade Commission–that prohibits collecting personal identifiers (PIs) from children under 14. A surprising amount of products have not yet adapted to the regulations. In 2014, the FTC has collected almost $61 million in fines from companies both large and small. They have no qualms taking you to the cleaners for even an accidental violation.

That’s why it’s important to have the right tools and practices that comply with COPPA. Here are a few ways to avoid being next on the FTC’s list:

Do Not Collect Personal Identifiers

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The crux of COPPA is to avoid collecting any personally identifying information (known as PIIs) about young users without their parents’ permission. PIIs are any single piece of information that could allow someone to find an individual in real life. If your app caters to children, the ideal scenario might be to avoid personal identifiers altogether. It also helps prevent a hefty FTC fine if the only data you collect serves a direct purpose for your app.

Some things that fall under personal identifiers are: email addresses, date of birth, home location, school location, full names, phone numbers, debit cards, and social media profiles. However, examples of anonymous metadata that COPPA does not restrict you from collecting includes device hardware, device operating system, how often users open your app, whether they make purchases, and if they have previously contacted support before. You are also not liable for information provided to support Agents unprompted, as long as you don’t store it.

Make All Contact Anonymous

After reading the above section you may have wondered “How can I provide support to my users while avoiding all that?” It’s totally possible with the right tools. An FAQ will allow children to figure out issues without contacting you in the first place. Using a contact portal other than the default can stop your company from accidentally storing the email addresses and names of youngsters that need support.

Helpshift has tons of features designed to assist your company, including filters that only allow metadata, anonymous in-app messaging, and enhanced self-service options.

In Summary:

Since companies all have different audiences and needs, complying with COPPA can feel like a minefield. However, there are plenty of easy ways to comply with this law and avoid fines. Look into the options that work for you. Remember: whatever headache you may experience while protecting children (and yourself) is nothing compared to being on the wrong side of this law.

The materials available on this page are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular question or issue you may have.

Published October 13, 2014
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