*Children's Online Privacy Law Takes Effect Next Week

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The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act goes into full force across the nation, extending certain legal privacy protections to all children under age 13 using the Internet as of next Friday.

The law's language, which was formulated by the Federal Trade Commission last year, following congressional approval of the COPPA statute on Oct. 21, 1998, requires that certain commercial Web sites obtain parental consent before collecting, using or disclosing personal information from children.

FTC chairman Robert Pitofsky said the rule meets the mandates of the statute and puts parents in control over the information collected from their children online. He said the language contained in the final document is flexible yet accommodates many of the business practices and technological changes occurring throughout the online world. "This final step achieves one of the commission's top goals -- protecting children's privacy online," he said.

According to the FTC, the new rule applies to "commercial Web sites and online services directed to, or that knowingly collect information from, children under 13." The commission rule also states that in order to inform parents of their information practices, "these sites are required to provide notice on the site and to parents about their policies with respect to the collection, use and disclosure of children's personal information.''

In addition, with certain statutory exceptions, sites will also have to obtain "verifiable parental consent" before collecting, using or disclosing personal information from children. "Verifiable parental consent" is defined by the FTC as "any reasonable effort [taking into consideration available technology] ... to ensure that a parent of a child ... authorizes the collection, use, and disclosure" of a child's personal information.

The road to getting COPPA passed took nearly three years, following an exhaustive effort on behalf of the FTC and numerous consumer groups that sought to identify and educate both the industry and the public about what the online collection of personal information from children and adult consumers would mean for the future.

The FTC recommended that Congress enact legislation concerning children following a March 1998 survey of 212 commercial children's Web sites. The survey found that while 89 percent of the sites collected personal information from children, only 24 percent were posting privacy policies, and only 1 percent required parental consent to the collection or disclosure of children's information.

Since that time, COPPA received widespread support from industry and consumer groups, and the majority of the nation's commercial Web sites have formulated and posted online privacy statements detailing how they use consumers' personally identifying information in general.

Copies of the full text of the rule, as well as information about the FTC's privacy initiative are available from the FTC's Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., Washington, DC 20580; 877/FTC-HELP (877/382-4357); TDD for the hearing impaired 202/326-2502.

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