The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) was passed by Congress as part of the
Omnibus spending bill in 1998. It took effect in April 2000. Before passage, COPPA
received one hearing in the Senate
and no separate consideration in the House.
COPPA requires "verifiable parental consent" before a commercial website operator may collect
information like e-mail addresses from children. For the internal use of the website,
this means getting an e-mail from the parent. For other uses, this means talking to
a parent, or getting a parentís snail mail, fax, or credit card number.
The premise of the bill is politically bullet-proof: We must protect children. The
details are more tricky: Protect them from what?
Congress passed this law in the absence of evidence that collection of information
by commercial websites harms children in any way. In fact, commercial websites pose
little danger to children because they stay in business by making children and their parents
comfortable and safe. The next best reason for the law is the idea that marketing to
children somehow harms them. If this is the case, television is the monsterous threat,
not the Internet.
Yet the COPPA law singled out the Internet for special regulation. This raised the cost
of serving children online by $50,000 to $100,000 dollars per website, with additional
per-child costs as well. On the Internet, which is
driven by diversity and small business innovation, this is a lot. It means that new
ways of teaching children will not develop and competition for serving children will
be thwarted. Instead, dominant Internet companies will capture the children's market.
More importantly, many children will lose access to valuable educational content and
healthy online interaction. These will tend to be the children of poor, non-English
speaking, or absentee parents. Other children will learn that lying about their ages
gives them access to worlds that other children enjoy. Either way, COPPA shows again
that their is no substitute for parenting, online or off.
Disney: The Mouse That Won't Roar by Ben Charny, ZDNet News
(October 11, 2000)
Internet Sites for Children Say New Law Hurting Business San
Jose Mercury (AP) (September 13, 2000)
Microsoft, and the Feds: This Recipe for Disaster Just Got Us a Little Steamed
by Stuart McClure and Joel Scambray, InfoWorld.com (May 19, 2000)
Privacy Law Costs a Bundle by Carolyn Duffy Marsan, Network World (May 16, 2000)
Cybersitters Report for
Assigned Duties by Sonia Arrison, Washington Times (May 6, 2000)
The Hidden Costs of Online Privacy by James W. Harper, Tech Central Station (March 27, 2000)