If your child has been using SelenaGomez.com to join the actress’s fan club or check out her red carpet looks, they may have given their personal information to a stranger.
The website operator for SelenaGomez.com, DemiLovatoFanClub and several teen sites has been fined $1 million for illegally collecting children’s personal information – like their addresses, ZIP codes, phone numbers and emails — without their parents’ consent (he was also forced to destroy all collected data). In this digital age, children’s personal information can be collected and kept easily, but with parental vigilance there are ways to keep personal information private.
In 1998, the Federal Trade Commission created the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) to ensure children under the age of 13 couldn’t have their information taken and/or sold. COPPA makes it illegal for a site to collect children’s data without parental consent. Since 1998, the internet has changed drastically. With iPhones, tablets, applications and sites using metrics sometimes developers find loopholes or ignore COPPA.
“The golden rule for digital kids is to never share your personal information online. If you wouldn’t tell a stranger, don’t put it online,” says Monica Olivera, NBC Latino contributor and the founder and publisher of MommyMaestra.com. Olivera suggests parents tell their children sharing anything personal, from details about their school to their real name, is a bad idea. “You’ll never regret what you did not post,” she says.
Olivera lets her child use Disney’s Club Penguin, a children’s site that requires parental consent, doesn’t allow sharing personal information and closely monitors conversations for bullying and inappropriate language.
But Olivera knows not all sites are Club Penguin. Some websites and applications try to take advantage of new media and platforms without following COPPA (which is trying to update for modern tech and “like” buttons).
For site and app developers who wish to follow COPPA, there’s concern for children who lie about their age to enter a site.
According to the Pew Center, 44 percent of online teens admit to lying about their age at one time or another to access a website or sign up for an online account. That same study says 12 and 13 year-olds are more likely to lie about their age online. And Consumer Reports estimates 7.5 million Facebook users are under 13 years old right now.
“It’s always a good idea for parents to be aware of the sites where their children are providing personal information. Parents should help their children register for fan sites (and any other site that requires personal data) so they can control what information is shared,” says Dr. Reynol Junco, Professor at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. Having a parent over a child’s shoulder could prevent lying about their age and sharing real information like their name and email.
Parents should also warn their children about sites that request information before asking for parental consent. For example, SelenaGomez.com collected and kept information on 48,531 children who didn’t complete the site’s registration process.
Here are five easy tips parents can follow to protect their children’s online privacy:
- Don’t provide personal information online, including emails, physical addresses, birth dates or photos
- Know which sites your children are using
- Help children register online for websites and newsletters
- Create an alternative email address just for site registration
- Talk to your children about online safety
According to Claudia Farrell, Senior Public Affairs Specialist at the FTC, there are no estimates for how many children have their information collected illegally online each year. However Farrell said, “when we find sites are not complying [with COPPA], we go after them.”
To report a site, visit the FTC’s website or call 1-877-FTC-HELP