While privacy has been a hotly debated topic the last few years, one area where real crackdowns have occurred is with the privacy rights for minors. With Yelp paying a $450,000 settlement for violating child privacy laws, website operators need to be aware of new legislation in this area. In California, for example, the Privacy Rights for California Minors in the Digital World Law went into effect on January 1, 2015.
The dominant law in the area of online privacy for minors is the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998. Better known as COPPA, the law details the obligations of online operators [you] when providing digital platforms “directed at children” or for which there is actual knowledge of children using the platform. The key, and rather odd part of the law, is it defines a minor child as a person under 13.
Do children suddenly become wise to the ways of the world and the web at 14? Hardly. Given this, California has stepped in with the new law that effectively raises this age to 18, but only to the extent the law prohibits the marketing of certain types of products to minors.
The Privacy Rights for California Minors in the Digital World Law is codified in section 22580 of the Business and Professions Code. The gist of that section is that online operators are prohibited from marketing the products listed below to minors under 18. Again, the online property must be directed at minors or there must be knowledge that minors are using the platform. For example, a website devoted to a game for kids aged 11 to 15 would need to comply with the law.
Section 22580(i) of the code provides a list of the prohibited items:
- Alcoholic beverages.
- Firearms or handguns.
- Ammunition or reloaded ammunition.
- Handgun safety certificates.
- Aerosol container of paint that is capable of defacing property.
- Etching cream that is capable of defacing property.
- Any tobacco, cigarette, or cigarette papers, or blunt wraps, or any other preparation of tobacco, or any other instrument or paraphernalia that is designed for the smoking or ingestion of tobacco, products prepared from tobacco, or any controlled substance.
- BB device, as referenced in Sections 16250 and 19910 of the Penal Code.
- Dangerous fireworks.
- Tanning in an ultraviolet tanning device.
- Dietary supplement products containing ephedrine group alkaloids.
- Tickets or shares in a lottery game.
- Salvia divinorum or Salvinorin A, or any substance or material containing Salvia divinorum or Salvinorin A, as referenced in Section 379 of the Penal Code.
- Body branding, as referenced in Sections 119301 and 119302 of the Health and Safety Code.
- Permanent tattoo, as referenced in Sections 119301 and 119302 of the Health and Safety Code and Section 653 of the Penal Code.
- Drug paraphernalia, as referenced in Section 11364.5 of the Health and Safety Code.
- Electronic cigarettes.
- Obscene matter, as referenced in Section 311 of the Penal Code.
- A less lethal weapon, as referenced in Sections 16780 and 19405 of the Penal Code.
Many operators use third-party advertising services for the placement of ads on apps, sites, and other online platforms. How then is one to control the ads shown if a third-party service is used? Legislators gave this issue consideration and provided a solution in the code:
(h)(1) With respect to marketing or advertising provided by an advertising service, the operator of an Internet Web site, online service, online application, or mobile application directed to minors shall be deemed to be in compliance with subdivision (a) if the operator notifies the advertising service, in the manner required by the advertising service, that the site, service, or application is directed to minors.
Yes, mere notification is all that is required. It then becomes the duty of the advertising service to make sure no offending ads are shown on your platform. As a matter of practicality, every online provider should maintain a copy of the notice given to the third party advertiser to prove compliance with this provision should the Attorney General of California ever inquire.
The Privacy Rights for California Minors in the Digital World Law went into effect on January 1, 2015, so compliance is already a must. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the law, feel free to contact me.
Richard A. Chapo, Esq.