FTC Reels In Web Sites Where Pre-Teens Send E-Cards

The Federal Trade Commission is now advising Web site operators that they should obtain parents' consent before letting users under age 13 send an e-card that includes the senders' e-mail address or first and last name.

Previously, the FTC said site operators could allow children under 13 to forward items to their friends as long as the sites deleted the email address provided by the children. The revisions were posted recently in the FTC's compliance materials to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, which regulates Internet marketing to children younger than 13.

"This interpretation of COPPA appears to contradict the original rationale for the e-card exception: that children availing themselves of these features already know each other's names and email addresses," said Elizabeth Lascoutx, counsel to Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz, in an alert about the changes sent out Friday. "If this new interpretation holds, marketers and Web site operators whose systems reveal the sender's name must consider whether they are now out of compliance with COPPA."

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Regulators appear to have recently stepped up enforcement efforts under COPPA. Last month, social marketing site Imbee.com was fined $130,000 for collecting data about its tween users without their parents' consent.

In addition, late last year Texas attorney general Greg Abbott accused two Web companies--gaming fan site GamesRadar.com and cartoon doll site TheDollPalace.com--of violating the act by collecting personal information from children under 13 without their parents' consent.

At the time, Kathryn Montgomery, an American University communications professor and also an architect of COPPA, told OnlineMediaDaily that renewed attention to online privacy seemed to be fueling the enforcement actions. "The online privacy issue is resurfacing and heating up as a public debate--which it was very much in the 1990s, when we got COPPA passed," she said.

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