Internet Advertising and Children

Children are particularly vulnerable when it comes to advertising. Marketers have long known that television advertising can be highly effective in reaching children, who are not savvy enough to understand that ads can be misleading.

Congress enacted legislation in 2000 to protect children, as well as their parents, from unscrupulous or unwitting advertisers who try to solicit information. Known as the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), it requires websites to obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting data from children. This data could include names, mailing addresses, email addresses, birth dates, and other private or personal information that children may not realize should not be shared online.

There have been cases, for example, in which children have been asked to provide this sort of information to websites as part of the entry rules for an online contest. COPPA mandates that in the case of such contests, children cannot be asked for information that is not deemed reasonably necessary. Companies that violate COPPA can face large fines. COPPA covers all websites for children ages 13 and under, as well as any website that collects data from children.

In fairness to these websites, many of them were ignorant about the problem and its potential fallout. Through increased education and compliance efforts, COPPA has helped children’s websites to be more careful. For example, a 1998 survey of 144 children’s websites revealed that only 24 percent had some sort of privacy policy to ensure that children’s information would not be given to other sources. A second survey, released in 2001, revealed that the number of sites with a privacy policy had risen to nearly 90 percent.


Inside Internet Advertising and Children