The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)
The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is a U.S. federal law enacted in 1998 that aims at protecting the online privacy of children under the age of 13.
The COPPA regulates the collection of personal information from children under 13 by online services, including websites and applications, such as Minecraft and Fortnite, if they collect personal information from children under 13 and are aware of such collection.
This article discusses how COPPA helps to promote safer digital environments for children and encourages responsible practices among online platforms and service providers.
The Relationship between the COPPA and Online Child Sexual Exploitation
While the COPPA does not directly address online child sexual exploitation, it focuses on privacy.
The COPPA primarily focuses on protecting children’s online privacy and regulating the collection of their personal information.
The COPPA and online child sexual exploitation have an indirect relationship but are interconnected; by protecting children’s right to privacy online, COPPA contributes to the achievement of some child protection goals in the context of child exploitation.
In accomplishing such purposes, the COPPA indirectly contributes to preventing and mitigating online child sexual exploitation.
The Role of the COPPA in Online Child Protection
The COPPA places certain requirements on operators of websites or online services directed towards children, who have actual knowledge that they are collecting personal information from children.
The COPPA advocates the following to ensure online child protection:
1. Age Verification: The COPPA requires operators of websites and online services directed towards children or with knowledge of collecting personal information from children to take reasonable steps to ensure they are obtaining verifiable parental consent before collecting such information.
Benefit for Child Protection: The requirement indirectly helps to prevent child sexual exploitation, such as grooming or solicitation of children, by placing barriers on predators who may attempt to gather personal information from children for sexual purposes.
Example: Minecraft and Fortnite may use age gates or other mechanisms to determine the age of users and prevent children under 13 from sharing personal information without parental consent.
Benefit for Child Protection: This requirement includes operators’ obligation to take necessary measures to protect children’s personal information from unauthorized access or disclosure.
This mechanism ensures strong privacy safeguards as per the COPPA, and, therefore, it reduces the risk of personal information from children falling into the wrong hands, including individuals involved in online child sexual exploitation.
Example: Minecraft and Fortnite, if they collect personal information from children under 13, must have privacy policies that comply with COPPA’s requirements and accurately reflect their data handling practices.
3. Parental Rights: The COPPA requires operators to provide parents with notice of the information collection practices on their websites or services, as well as mechanisms to review and delete their children's personal information.
Therefore, the COPPA significantly emphasizes parental involvement and control over their children’s online activities.
The COPPA gives parents the right to review and delete their child’s personal information collected by online services.
Benefit for Child Protection: This provision encourages parents to actively participate in their children’s online lives and increases the chances of detecting and preventing potential instances of online child sexual exploitation and contact with strangers.
Example: If Minecraft or Fortnite collect personal information from children under 13, they must provide mechanisms for parents to access, review, and request the deletion of their child’s information.
4. Notice and Consent: The COPPA requires operators of online services to provide notice to parents and obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting, using, or disclosing children’s personal information.
The law also requires online services to provide notice to parents about the collection and use of their children’s information.
Benefit for Child Protection: Parents can be actively engaged by monitoring their children’s online interactions.
This requirement helps parents set age-appropriate boundaries and get familiarized with the features and the games that their children access to make informed decisions and implement adequate safeguards.
Example: If Minecraft or Fortnite collects personal information from users under 13, they need to comply with the COPPA’s requirements to provide appropriate notice to parents and obtain their consent.
5. Compliance and Enforcement: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is responsible for enforcing the COPPA.
Benefit for Child Protection: The COPPA serves as an important legal framework to safeguard children’s privacy rights online, leading to the achievement of some child protection goals.
This legal obligation for online services ensures the privacy and safety of children’s personal data and gives parents control over the information from their children online.
Example: If Minecraft or Fortnite fail to comply with the COPPA’s requirements, they may face penalties and enforcement actions from the FTC.
Limitations of the COPPA
The COPPA does not specifically address the issue of online child sexual exploitation.
These child-directed websites and services attract a large user base, including children and young players, and predators are constantly updating their tactics and strategies to do everything in their capacity to follow children where they go to lure them.
While these services and platforms, including gaming environments, achieve some child protection goals with the adoption of measures protecting the privacy rights of children, as mandated by the COPPA, these online environments can still present risks and challenges related to child safety.
These online services and platforms may inadvertently protect online predators from being identified and brought to justice, making child users more vulnerable to exploitation online.
There are currently proposals for specific legislations targeting online child sexual exploitation, such as the EARN IT Act which focuses more directly on combating and preventing these heinous online crimes against children.
Measures Online Platforms Can Implement to Enhance Online Child Safety
The protection of children on the internet lies in the collective responsibility of various stakeholders, including governments, industry partners, parents, educators, and children themselves.
Here are some key preventive measures that online platforms can implement to help create a safer online environment for children and young people in their digital environments.
1. Moderation and Reporting: Online platforms, including gaming environments, should make sure to have in place moderation systems as part of their policies and practices to monitor and filter user-generated content.
Reporting mechanisms should be provided to report inappropriate behavior or suspicious activities within the game.
It is also essential that these platforms encourage users, including players, to report any concerns that they encounter, as that helps the platforms take appropriate actions against potential predators or traffickers.
2. Privacy Settings: Platforms, including gaming environments, should make sure to offer privacy settings that allow players to control who can interact with them and access their information.
It is essential that children are encouraged to adjust these settings to limit contact with strangers and to only communicate with approved friends to enhance their safety within the gaming environment.
3. Reporting and Response: Platforms, including gaming platforms, should have clear and efficient reporting mechanisms in place to address concerns related to online predators promptly.
These platforms should collaborate with law enforcement agencies and follow legal obligations to investigate and take appropriate action against individuals engaged in predatory behavior.
4. Educational Resources: In compliance with the COPPA, child-directed websites and services should provide educational resources and guidelines for parents and children about online safety and responsible digital behavior.
These online platforms should promote digital literacy and education to children about online risks and responsible online behavior.
Parents, educators, and gaming platforms should work together to provide resources, tips, and guidance to help children recognize and respond to online dangers, including grooming or predatory behavior.
Recommendations to Governments
1. Policymakers are required to carefully revise laws, regulations, and policies to impose legal obligations and responsibilities on internet companies to take steps to address and prevent online child sexual exploitation.
2. New regulations imposing legal obligations may be needed to address online platforms use for facilitating child exploitation activities and ensure the protection of both the privacy and the safety of children online.
Recommendations to Child-Directed Websites and Services
1. As technology evolves, child-directed websites and services should have robust measures in place to protect children who are using their platforms.
These measures include age verification mechanisms, reporting tools, and educational resources to raise awareness and promote child safety.
2. It is important to safeguard children’s right to privacy online in balance with child safety.
Stricter policies and practices protecting the privacy of children need to strongly consider child safety.
It is important to ensure safety by designing product features and programs to mitigate and address online harms of children.
Children have rights online.
Children have the right to be protected from online child sexual exploitation.
Online services and platforms are required to protect children by having their explicit or exploitative images detected, reported, and removed from circulation and detecting and reporting grooming or predatory conversations.
Recommendations to Parents and Guardians
1. Children are in an evolving process, gradually gaining maturity.
Parents and guardians have a duty to provide guidance to their children and protect them from harm by teaching them about the positive uses of the internet and enhancing their skills to protect themselves from serious risks and harm.
2. Parents and guardians should actively be involved in the child's online activities.
They should supervise and monitor the child's online activities.
Parents and guardians can take steps such as placing computers in common areas of the home, such as the living room, and regularly monitoring their child's online behavior.
They may also consider using monitoring software or parental control apps to keep track of the child's online activities.
1. The federal law, known as the COPPA, imposes requirements on operators of websites and online services to obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting personal information from children under the age of 13.
While the COPPA primarily focuses on privacy protection, it indirectly contributes to preventing child exploitation by requiring companies to implement measures to verify the age of users.
2. Proposed legations are on the way, such as the EARN IT Act, which aims to impose a duty of care on electronic service providers to protect children from harm, including child exploitation.
What is Human Trafficking Front Doing?
• Human Trafficking Front advocates for stricter frameworks to protect children against trafficking and exploitation in cyberspace.
• Human Trafficking Front disseminates best practices educational resources for parents and guardians to protect their children and learn more about online child safety and responsible digital behavior.
• Human Trafficking Front equips professionals, including first responders and practitioners, with the tools that they need to improve their knowledge and skills to recognize and respond to threats of children on the internet.
• Human Trafficking Front empowers the community at large, raising awareness about human trafficking, including child sex trafficking and the risks of children of online sexual exploitation.
Act Now. For more tools and information, check out our Resources page.
This best practices prevention guide and publication is part of the Human Trafficking Front's program: Putting an End to the Online Sexual Exploitation of Children: Preventing Victimization and Strengthening Child Protection Systems.
Human Trafficking Front. (2023, July 14). The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). https://humantraffickingfront.org/the-childrens-online-privacy-protection-act-coppa/
 Office of the Law Revision Counsel. (1998). 15 USC 6501: Definitions. United States Code. http://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?req=granuleid%3AUSC-prelim-title15-section6501&edition=prelim
 UNICEF, Office of Research - Innocenti, Florence. (2020). The Sale and Sexual Exploitation of Children: Digital Technology, at 6. https://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/Post-Consultation-Brief-Sale-Sexual-Exploitation-of-Children-Digital-Tech.pdf