Buyer Beware: Programmatic Ads May Not Be COPPA Compliant

Programmatic is a hot topic in the industry, since digital media advertising is now largely bought programmatically. But is it the safest method when it comes to kids’ media? Definitely not.

Here’s why.

Protecting children in today’s world is more challenging than ever. From the threat of real violence against them to preserving their innocence and privacy when they use technology, adults need to ensure their safety.

This, in part, is why Congress enacted the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in 1998. It is regulated by the Federal Trade Commission and in essence imposes certain requirements on operators of websites and online services regarding the collection of data from children under the age of 13.

Although programmatic is time-efficient for advertisers to purchase a bulk of inventory at once, it’s not the safest way and can lead to heavy fines and the brand’s reputation taking a hit. 

On the plus side, a lot of inventory can be bought at one time, less labor is involved and it is quicker, partially automated and cost-efficient – all wonderful attributes for a company’s bottom line.

However, when advertising on kids’ websites, human involvement is crucial to not only keep both website owners and advertisers compliant with the law, but to also keep children safe from being exposed to questionable or controversial content. 

A direct relationship is always more effective than using an automated process that potentially allows ads to be placed which are not kid safe or appropriate. Programmatic is basically a machine, not manual, and by using it advertisers don’t have the assurance that their ad will be COPPA compliant.

Once data is input incorrectly, programmatic ads will continuously run with no human oversight, leading to violations of the law. Advertising buyers who buy programmatically are not always fully educated on COPPA laws and the importance of following them.

These ad reps may not know how to correctly buy ad inventory programmatically. Often, an advertiser isn’t trying to be malicious, but even if it happens accidentally, they are still responsible since there is a zero-tolerance level for error.

Here is where the diligence of COPPA and the FTC come into play.

COPPA laws are complex and fraught with issues. The best method for advertisers and publishers to remain within the letter of the law is to partner with advertising buying firms that are experts in childrens’ online safety laws.

By working with an educated team of individuals who educate both sides about what’s appropriate and also use a system of checks and balances, there is less likelihood that a company will be in violation. For instance, popular video-sharing sites such as YouTube may contain COPPA compliant ads purchased programmatically, but the content is not necessarily family friendly.

Domain spoofing occurs sometimes as well, which can slip through the cracks with programmatic. Therefore, it is important for publishers and advertisers to work with kidSAFE-certified companies to make sure that everyone follows the rules.

The kidSAFE Seal Program ensures that children-friendly websites and related technologies are regulated for COPPA compliancy and no laws are broken, even if done unintentionally.
1 comment about "Buyer Beware: Programmatic Ads May Not Be COPPA Compliant".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, November 8, 2018 at 11:08 a.m.

    Who protects the children when they view billboards and storefronts from the windows of an automobile? Or that guy's lewd t-shirt in a public place? Even worse, when they visit a friend's house where violent video games are available. The offline world is a scary place. Good luck keeping your kids inside a bubble, with or without an "educated team" of individuals.

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