If you are an author of children’s literature (especially middle grade fiction), or hope to be soon, then make sure your marketing efforts are COPPA compliant.
What is COPPA?
COPPA is the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act designed to protect the privacy of children under the age of 13, and help parents maintain control over what information people collect from their children online. Enacted by Congress in 1998 (and amended in 2013), the law requires the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to enforce regulations concerning the privacy of children online.
Who must comply with COPPA?
When it comes to marketing a book, the Internet is obviously an important tool in any savvy marketing plan. For children’s literature, the Internet allows the author and publisher to interact with an intended audience in creative ways through games, cartoons, advertisements, contests, chat rooms, and emails. Often these efforts collect and use personal information from the children such as names and emails. But under COPPA, personal information also includes physical addresses, photos, geo-locations, a user name that functions as an online contact, telephone numbers, social security numbers, and audio files with the child’s voice. Naturally, disclosure of this type of information raises huge privacy concerns for parents.
If you are marketing a book via a website, online service, or app (whether you are the author or the publisher), and the marketing content is directed toward children and collects personal information, then you must be COPPA complaint before collecting, using, or disclosing such information.
Why should this concern you?
Failing to be COPPA compliant could mean you are liable for hefty fines ($16,000 – $40,654 per violation according to the FTC). In recent years, Playdom, Inc. (Pony Stars virtual reality sites) was hit with a 3 million dollar fine for COPPA violations; Yelp, $450,000; TinyCo, $300,000. Even Viacom, Mattel, and Hasbro have been fined for websites directed toward kids that compiled personal information ultimately disclosed to advertisers.
How do you know if you need to comply with COPPA?
Ask yourself – Am I marketing content and collecting personal information via a website, online service, or app directed toward children? For most, answering this question is a no brainer. But, if you need guidance, the FTC considers several factors when making such a determination: subject matter, actual or intended audience for advertising, visual or audio content, age of models used, language, animated characters, and any other children-oriented features. You get the idea. Most likely, if you are marketing a children’s book, you should be COPPA compliant.
How to be COPPA compliant?
Educate yourself with and follow the FTC COPPA guidelines. Here is a brief synopsis of the COPPA requirements. For a full list, see the FTC’s Six Step Compliance Plan.
-the name and address of the site operators;
-the type of information collected and how;
-the intended use of the information;
-if and how the information is disclosed to third parties;
-how those third parties intend to use the information (like plug-ins and ad networks); and
-a description of parental rights.
3. Obtain “verifiable parental consent” for the collection of the information. Some acceptable methods include:
-a signed consent form (via fax, mail, or scanned);
-a toll-free number; or
-a video conference.
4. Give the parents the ability to review, correct, and delete their child’s information.
5. Give the parents the ability to withhold consent and prevent the collection and disclosure of information from their child.
6. Implement reasonable procedures to protect personal information.
Do what is necessary to maintain confidentially and security of personal information. Collect only the information you need. Make sure other service providers maintain the security of the personal information. Hold on to the information for only as long as needed and then dispose of it.
7. Use methodology for determining the age of the child prior to completion of the registration that does not invite falsification.
If implementing these guidelines feels overwhelming, hire a reputable COPPA expert who can help you. Also, the FTC allows approved industry groups under the COPPA Safe Harbor Program the ability to submit for FTC approval their COPPA regulatory guidelines.
By following COPPA requirements, your marketing efforts may not achieve the same results that other genre writers of adult fiction enjoy (like growing an email list), but you will avoid paying exorbitant COPPA fines. Play your marketing efforts safe. Be COPPA compliant.