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Protecting your child's online identity

Sherri Kuhn blogs at Old Tweener, where she writes about raising teenagers, the perils of a clean home, wistfulness over babies, and anything else that makes her laugh (or cry) in the years between changing diapers and wearing them. With...

Amendments to COPPA protect kids

Social media is a constantly changing minefield our kids navigate every day. New amendments to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), effective July 1, are targeted at the under-13 crowd.
Boy on computer

What are these new changes and what should parents know about protecting their child's online identity?

Think your kids are safe online? It's not as easy as you think to ensure that the information your child is sharing online isn't compromising their privacy. Not only are kids spending a lot of time online, but they jump from site to site as soon as a new social media trend pops up. Staying ahead of the game and protecting the under-13-year-olds just became a little bit easier, with new amendments to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

What is COPPA?

Originally enacted in 1998, the primary goal of COPPA is make sure that parents are in control of what personal information is collected from their young children when they are online. COPPA was specifically designed to protect children under the age of 13 and applies to commercial websites, online services and mobile apps.

The amended rule defines personal information to include:

  • First and last name.
  • A home or other physical address, including street name and name of a city or town.
  • Online contact information.
  • A screen or user name that functions as online contact information.
  • A telephone number.
  • A social security number.
  • A persistent identifier that can be used to recognize a user over time and across different websites or online services.
  • A photograph, video or audio file, where such a file contains a child's image or voice.
  • Geolocation information sufficient to identify street name and name of a city or town.
  • Information concerning the child or the parents of that child that the operator collects online from the child and combines with an identifier described above.

What does COPPA do for my kid?

Rebecca Levey and Nancy Friedman — co-founders of KidzVuz.com — are both passionate about the topic of online safety for kids. We asked them how COPPA protects our kids. "Basically, it protects your kids' privacy, but it doesn't protect them from what they see," says Friedman. "The good news is, COPPA does make you more aware of what your kids are doing, because a kid-directed site needs Verifiable Parental Consent (VPC) before your kid can participate in the site." This added layer of protection means that a child has to get the last four digits of your social security number, your driver's license or your credit card before they can access the site. "So while it's kind of a lot to hand over, it does let you know exactly what your kids are doing online," she adds. Many sites are verified by KidSafe, Privo, TrustE and other companies that have audited the site to ensure they are following COPPA law.

Hidden dangers

We asked if parents are a bit naive about the potential for their kids to share too much personal information online. "I don't think parents are naive about dangers," says Levey. "Actually I think too much focus is put on bullying and predators — which are important issues — but really what parents should worry about is that their kids are sharing so much information publicly at such a young age and don't understand the repercussions."

Concern about kids revealing their personal info in photos, videos and comments led Levey and Friedman to action. "We founded KidzVuz because we wanted a safe place for kids to be able to express themselves through video. We constantly have kids trying to put up their phone number or home address for other 'fans' to contact them. And we never allow those things to go up live," she adds.

Top 5 tips for parents

We asked Levey and Friedman to share the top five things every parent should know about protecting their children's online identity.

Know what personal information is. And make sure your kids know, too, so they know what not to share. Tell them never to share phone number, email, full name, address or school name (even if it's just on the shirt they're wearing in a picture) on any site — even if it's "safe."

Treat your kid's smartphone like the mini-computer it is. Whatever safety precautions you take on your child's computer should apply to his or her phone. And don't forget about geolocation — turn it off on your kids' phone.

Have a game plan. Your kids can't protect themselves from what they don't know. Talk to your kids about what they might see on the internet — and what to do if they see something they shouldn't or if someone contacts them in a way that makes them uncomfortable. Having a game plan will make your kids more likely to respond in a healthy way to an unsafe situation.

Keep up on the latest technology your kids are using. You can't protect your kids from what you don't know. Don't know about Vine, Pheed or Snapchat? You should.

Repeat yourself. A lot. Don't have the digital safety talk with your kids once and think you're done. Your kids should know that you're on top of what they're doing, aware of the newest sites and apps they're using and ready to intervene should something go wrong.

More online safety

7 Things your kids shouldn't share online
Keeping track of your kids online
When your child's friend posts something inappropriate online

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