FTC Votes 4-0 to Approve Integrity Children's Privacy Compliance Program as "Safe Harbor"

PR Newswire
Monday, February 27th 2012

Children's sites get new methods to obtain parental consent; streamlined 'frictionless' and 'commercially reasonable' methods a boost to business, parent-friendly

WASHINGTON, Feb. 27, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced Friday that commissioners voted unanimously to approve The Integrity Children's Privacy Compliance Program, designed by Aristotle International, as a "safe harbor" program under the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

The FTC's COPPA Rule mandates that operators of websites and online services directed to children under the age of 13, and those who knowingly collect personal information from children, must post comprehensive privacy policies on their sites, notify parents about their information practices, and obtain parental consent before collecting, using, or disclosing any personal information from children. COPPA's "safe harbor" provision allows industry members and groups the freedom to employ an FTC-approved COPPA oversight program to reduce or eliminate the need for formal FTC investigation and law enforcement.

The Integrity Children's Privacy Compliance Program protects children's privacy by helping websites meet the standards established by the FTC, and gives companies more responsible and commercially reasonable ways to obtain parental consent for children online. This innovative application of technology obtains a parent's clear, unambiguous consent to help children safely enjoy age-appropriate websites.

Integrity can now enable sites that focus on children 12 and younger, and even those that do not, to easily meet COPPA-compliance requirements, by leveraging Integrity's extensive identity information to empower real-time verification of parents. This is an important safety enhancement in the virtual world and game environments, particularly where immediate approval is desired without the requirement of a credit card.

Most site operators currently rely on "e-mail plus" or require the processing of a credit card charge. The FTC's new Rule addressing data retention and deletion, proposes to remove "email plus" as an option for obtaining verifiable parental consent because "the Commission believes that e-mail plus has outlived its usefulness and should no longer be a recognized approach to parental consent under the Rule." Aristotle shares the same view of the "e-mail plus" option—it is not a reliable method of obtaining parental consent because it is easily subject to circumvention by children. As a result, Aristotle has introduced a number of innovative and frictionless methods for obtaining verifiable parental consent.

Integrity has integrated modern technology into the parental verification process. The 13 online and offline mechanisms include real-time face-to-face verification of parents via Skype or similar videoconferencing technologies. It gives the parents the authority to say, "I am the adult responsible for this child and you may include him or her in this activity." If a parent says "no", the child may not participate. Where the provider is an online business, Integrity's FTC-approved safe harbor program is insurance against legal exposure and brand risk.

To earn safe harbor approval, the Integrity program had to fulfill three criteria:

  1. Provide the same or greater protections for children as those contained in the Rule;
  2. Set forth effective, mandatory mechanisms for the independent assessment of Members' compliance; and
  3. Provide effective incentives for Members' compliance.

Aristotle's safe harbor application was published in a Federal Register notice June 27, 2011, after which the FTC sought public comment through August 15, 2011. The Commission vote to approve the Aristotle safe harbor application was 4-0.