FTC Approves First New COPPA Safe Harbor Program Under Its Amended COPPA Rule

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By Katie W. Johnson

Feb. 12 --The Federal Trade Commission Feb. 12 announced that it has approved the kidSAFE Seal Program as a new safe harbor program under the Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule.

The program is the first new safe harbor program under the amended version of the rule, FTC spokeswoman Cheryl Warner told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 12.

The FTC's final amendments to the rule implementing the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act took effect in July 2013 . The COPPA Rule imposes parental notice and consent requirements on websites and online services that collect personal information from children younger than 13.

The rule includes a safe harbor provision that allows industry members to develop their own self-regulatory guidelines that implement the rule's protections. “Website operators that participate in a COPPA safe harbor program will, in most circumstances, be subject to the review and disciplinary procedures provided in the safe harbor's guidelines in lieu of formal FTC investigation and law enforcement,” the commission explained in a Feb. 12 statement.

Five other groups have received the FTC's stamp of approval for their safe harbor programs: the Children's Advertising Review Unit of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, the Entertainment Software Rating Board , TRUSTe, Privo Inc. and Aristotle International Inc.

Company Addresses Comments

The FTC first sought public input on Los Angeles-based Samet Privacy LLC's application for approval of its kidSAFE Seal Program in September 2013 . The commission later extended the comment period as a result of the partial government shutdown in fall 2013 .

On its website, the company describes the kidSAFE Seal Program as “a new, fast-growing 'seal of approval' program that independently reviews and certifies the safety practices of children-friendly websites and technologies, including kid-targeted game sites, educational sites, virtual worlds, social networks, mobile apps, tablet devices, and other similar online and interactive products.” When a product meets the kidSAFE core safety rules and its additional rules based on COPPA, it may display a “kidSAFE+ COPPA Certified” seal on its website.

In a letter to Shai Samet, the program's founder and president, the FTC said the commission determined that the kidSAFE self-regulatory guidelines contain three necessary components: “substantially similar requirements that provide the same or greater protections for children as those contained in the Rule”; “an effective, mandatory mechanism for the independent assessment of the safe harbor program participants' compliance with the guidelines”; and disciplinary actions following noncompliance by participants.

The FTC said that it received 11 comments on the application, eight of which supported approval of the program. The other three comments raised concerns with the program, such as the potential for consumers to be confused with multiple kidSAFE self-regulatory programs and the program's ability to address member compliance. The commission said kidSAFE agreed to address these concerns by modifying its seal and redesigning its mechanism for consumer complaints.

“This program will help expand the implementation of the recently amended COPPA Rule, and we look forward to working with kidSAFE and the other safe harbor programs to provide important protections for children's online privacy,” the FTC said.


To contact the reporter on this story: Katie W. Johnson in Washington at kjohnson@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Donald G. Aplin at daplin@bna.com

Full text of the FTC's approval letter is available at http://op.bna.com/pl.nsf/r?Open=kjon-9g9prs

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