Xanga.com Pays One Million for Violating COPPA

The FTC is getting serious about children’s privacy. According to the FTC website, xanga.com (and its pricipals, Marc Ginsburg and John Hiler) agreed to pay a whopping $1 Million in civil penalties for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”).

According to the FTC, the xanga site allowed users under the age of 13 to sign up for a free account, despite the proscription on the sign-up page. Xanga failed to secure parental permission from those users, even when they used a birthdate that clearly made them underage.

Practice Pointer:
Many companies mistakenly believe that they are in compliance with COPPA guidelines if their content is adult directed or if they post a statement that no one under 13 is allowed to register on the site. In fact, companies may be in violation of COPPA in the following situations:

  • The site gives a potential registrant a message such as “sorry, you’re under 13 and cannot register” pursuant to entering an incorrect birthdate.
  • The site allows a potential registrant to use the browser “back” button to enter a new birthdate.
  • The site contains an “attractive nuisance,” such as a cartoon image or a commercially desireable product that would attract younger children (paticulary younger children with older siblings).
  • The site has received email from parents stating that their child (a registrant) is under the age of 13.
  • The site does not provide parents with an easy way to change their children’s information.
  • The site offers a promotion (such as a sweepstakes) and uses collected information for later advertising.
  • The site holds personally identifiable information, even if it doesn’t send direct advertising.
  • As the FTC continues to crack down on social sites, the fnes and corrective measures (including scrapping an entire mailing list) that the FTC will require will continue to increase. If you are uncertain whether you should be in compliance, contact us

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