Online Child Safety Laws
The first step in understanding how to keep your child safe online is understanding the laws that regulate online child safety—and their flaws.
The main law that regulates children’s safety on the internet is the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Passed by Congress in 1998 and updated in 2012, COPPA aims to give parents more information and control regarding the websites that collect information about children under the age of 13.
To do this, COPPA imposes certain requirements on the operators of websites or online services that are either directed to children under 13 or that have direct knowledge that they are collecting personal information from a child under 13 years of age.
Websites covered by COPPA include:
- Websites that collect information and are specifically directed to children under 13
- Websites that are directed toward general audiences but that collect personal information (for example, a website that asks for a birthdate on the site’s registration page)
- Third-party services, like advertising networks or plug-ins, that collect information from users of a site directed to children under 13
Websites covered by COPPA must:
- Post privacy policies
- Provide parents with notice of their information practices
- Collect verifiable parental consent before collecting a child’s information
Despite COPPA’s aim to protect children online, the law is hard to enforce and deeply flawed. Children can easily manipulate sites asking for birthdates to require entry or for registration by choosing a date that puts them over 13. Additionally, the law only covers up to age 13, leaving teens between the ages of 14 and 17—who can’t legally enter into binding contracts, including online privacy policies—unprotected.
Despite COPPA’s aim to protect children online, the law is hard to enforce and deeply flawed.
Additionally, websites don’t have a reliable way to obtain parents’ consent online and don’t have an effective way of authenticating users’ ages, meaning they often don’t know they’re dealing with children, despite the stipulations in pace for this purpose.
Finally, COPPA isn’t extremely effective in protecting children from several of the real dangers of the internet, including subjection to graphic violence, sex or profanity, or exposure to cyber predators.
These flaws mean that parents are largely responsible for keeping their children safe online. In the next sections, we’ve compiled tips on how to keep your children safe online, from setting up their social media networks to using parental controls to monitor what they’re able to access.