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Last week, the Federal Trade Commission made clear that child-directed parts of an otherwise general audience service will subject the operator of the service to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

Just six months after the FTC’s record-setting settlement against TikTok, the FTC announced a $170 million fine against Google and its subsidiary YouTube to settle allegations that YouTube had collected personal information from children without first obtaining parental consent, in violation of the FTC’s rule implementing COPPA. This $170 million fine—$136 million to the FTC and $34 million to the New York Attorney General, with whom the FTC brought the enforcement action—dwarfs the $5.7 million levied against TikTok earlier this year. It is by far the largest amount that the FTC has obtained in a COPPA case since Congress enacted the law in 1998. The settlement puts operators of general-audience websites on notice that they are not automatically excluded from COPPA’s coverage: they are required to comply with COPPA if particular parts of their websites or content (including content uploaded by others) are directed to children under age 13.


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Advancements in technology appear to have spurred the Federal Trade Commission to initiate a review of its rule promulgated pursuant to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (the “COPPA Rule” or “Rule”) four years ahead of schedule. Last week, the FTC published a Federal Register notice seeking comments on the Rule. Although the FTC typically reviews a rule only once every 10 years and the last COPPA Rule review ended in 2013, the Commission unanimously voted 5-0 to seek comments ahead of its next scheduled review. The Commission cited the education technology sector, voice-enabled connected devices, and general audience platforms hosting third-party, child-directed content as developments warranting reexamination of the Rule at this time.

Background

The COPPA Rule, which first went into effect in 2000, generally requires operators of online services to obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting personal information from children under the age of 13.  In 2013, the FTC amended the COPPA Rule to address changes in the way children use and access the internet, including through the increased use of mobile devices and social networking.  Its amendments included the expansion of the definition of “personal information” to include persistent identifiers that track online activity, geolocation information, photos, videos, and audio recordings. The new review could result in similarly significant amendments.

Questions for Public Comment

In addition to standard questions about the effectiveness of the COPPA Rule and whether it should be retained, eliminated, or modified, the FTC is seeking comment on all major provisions of the Rule, including its definitions, notice and parental consent requirements, exceptions, and security requirements.
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In March, Socially Aware reported on a lawsuit involving several prominent news outlets’ publication of a photo of NFL quarterback Tom Brady on Twitter. The case had the potential to upend a copyright and Internet-law rule that, in the words of a Forbes columnist, “media companies had viewed as settled law for over a

Nevada just joined California as the second state to enact an opt-out right for consumers from the “sale” of their personal information. Senate Bill 220, which was signed into law on May 29, 2019, is scheduled to take effect on October 1, 2019, three months prior to its precursor under the California Consumer Protection Act (the CCPA). The opt-out right is one of several changes made to Nevada’s existing online privacy law, which requires operators of commercial websites and other online services to post a privacy policy. In addition to the new opt-out right, the revised law exempts from its requirements certain financial institutions, HIPAA-covered entities, and motor vehicle businesses.
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New York is now one of the 43 states where “revenge porn,” the posting of explicit photographs or videos to the Internet without the subject’s consent, is punishable by law. See how far the states have come – find out how many had criminalized revenge porn as of 2014, when Socially Aware first covered the

The cost for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) has been steadily rising, and companies subject to the law should take heed. Last week, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced a record-setting $5.7 million settlement with the mobile app company Musical.ly for a myriad of COPPA violations, exceeding even the December 2018 $4.95 million COPPA settlement by the New York Attorney General. Notably, two Commissioners issued a statement accompanying the settlement, arguing that the FTC should prioritize holding executives personally responsible for their roles in deliberate violations of the law in the future.

COPPA is intended to ensure parents are informed about, and can control, the online collection of personal information (PI) from their children under age thirteen. Musical.ly (now operating as “TikTok”) is a popular social media application that allows users to create and share lip-sync videos to popular songs. The FTC cited the Shanghai-based company for numerous violations of COPPA, including failure to obtain parental consent and failure to properly delete children’s PI upon a parent’s request.


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Most companies are familiar with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and its requirement to obtain parental consent before collecting personal information online from children under 13.  Yet COPPA also includes an information deletion requirement of which companies may be unaware.  On May 31, 2018, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) published a blog post

In the last few years, as advertising has followed consumers from legacy media such as television to online video and social media platforms, the Federal Trade Commission has been attempting to ensure that participants in this new advertising ecosystem understand the importance of complying with the FTC’s “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising,” or the endorsement guides. The endorsement guides require advertisers and endorsers (also referred to as influencers) to, among other things, clearly and conspicuously disclose when the advertiser has provided an endorser with any type of compensation in exchange for an endorsement.

A failure to make appropriate disclosures may be a violation of Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, which prohibits unfair or deceptive acts or practices. In recent enforcement actions, press releases, guidance, closing letters and letters sent directly to endorsers (including prominent public figures), the FTC has made clear its belief that: (1) appropriate disclosures by influencers are essential to protecting consumers; and (2) in too many instances, such disclosures are absent from celebrity or other influencer endorsements.
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Companies that offer services, whether online or offline, to consumers on a subscription or other automatic renewal basis should be aware that such offers are heavily regulated at both the federal and state levels. A recent amendment to Section 17602 of California’s Business and Professions Code provides a good opportunity for businesses that make subscription offers to review their practices. As of July 1, 2018, the obligations under California law will expand in two ways that may require businesses to update those practices.

The first change relates to the information that businesses must provide to consumers regarding the terms of a subscription offer. The current law already requires a business to provide certain information about the renewal process—such as the amount of the recurring charges, the length of the renewal period, and the cancellation policy—both before the consumer accepts the agreement, and afterwards in an acknowledgement. The amendment provides that, as of July 1, 2018, if the offer includes any free trial or gift component, the information provided to consumers must also include a “clear and conspicuous explanation of the price that will be charged after the trial ends or the manner in which the subscription or purchasing agreement pricing will change upon conclusion of the trial.”
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With much fanfare, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) continues to take actions relating to so-called “social media influencers” who allegedly fail to disclose material connections to the products or brands they endorse. Recurring enforcement actions and guidance—and the FTC’s ongoing promotion of its own efforts, such as through Twitter chats—make it clear that the FTC believes that its message has still not been heard by all of the players in this advertising ecosystem, including influencers themselves.

In short, any endorsements in any medium where the endorser has a material connection of any kind to the endorsed advertiser must be disclosed.

The most recent developments include an enforcement action against a company—and two of its officers—in connection with endorsements of the company made by the officers in YouTube videos and in social media.  Before turning to this case, however, we provide a brief overview of how the FTC has gotten here.
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