Internet safety and digital parenting expert Hilary DeCesare answers our questions about the changes to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and what you need to do to make sure your little ones are safe while navigating the Internet.
Can you tell us a little bit more about COPPA?
The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act was enacted to protect children under 13 online, and the parents of children under 13 committed to keeping their kids safe online.
Last year the FTC amended it. What are the new rules?
They needed to keep up with evolving technology and changes in the way children use and access the Internet. This includes the ever-increasing use of mobile devices and social networking sites. The amendments, which go into effect July 1, will require operators of websites or online services that are either directed to children under 13 or have actual knowledge that they are collecting personal information from children under 13 to notify parents and get their verifiable consent before they can collect, use or disclose a child’s personal information. They will also be required to keep the information they collect from children secure. This information includes geo-locations, photos, videos and audio files that contain a child’s image or voice.
Last month, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano spoke to the importance of teaching “good cyber hygiene” to today’s youth. What does good cyber hygiene mean?
It's also called cyber etiquette, or digital etiquette, and it means acting appropriately online. At young ages, children have no idea what “forever” means and therefore don’t understand the implications of what they post online. Unfortunately, if they happen to post this content on non-COPPA sites, the content is out there forever. Some examples of this are posting inappropriate pictures or other media, and posting personal information including full names, addresses, phone numbers, schools, etc. Posting the latter can even result in cyber-stalking, or predators gaining information about the child. Learning good cyber hygiene helps kids understand what is and isn’t appropriate, and trains them to be responsible digital citizens.
What is the appropriate age for children to begin going online?
Every child is different. While some are happy to wait to go online until they are 13, many children wish to get on the Web at an earlier age. In fact, among very young children (up to 5 years old) who use the Internet, about 80 percent do so at least once a week. If children decide to go online at a young age, it is important they respect platform age minimums; for example, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ask that you be 13 or older to use their sites, as they are not COPPA-compliant. If children are online in an appropriate space, it is good for them to learn how to be a responsible digital citizen.