Bieber Fever Leads To Big Liability

Artist Arena, an operator of fan Web sites for several pop stars, including Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez and Rihanna, recently entered a million dollar settlement with the FTC. The offense? Artist Arena collected personal information from children without obtaining parental consent. The federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, also known as “COPPA”, prohibits a Web site from collecting personal information from children 12 years old or younger without their parents’ permission. The law is clear, but the issue that comes up frequently in enforcement actions is whether the Web site is targeted to children. Some sites will take the position that they don’t ask for users’ ages, and therefore have no way of knowing whether children are visiting. The fight then becomes whether the site is the kind that would be attractive to kids. Unfortunately for Artist Arena, though, it couldn’t put up much of a battle on this front. It asked for the kids’ ages when they signed on. And apparently, over 100,000 kids provided personal information without their parents’ okay. The FTC is looking to strengthen COPPA’s coverage. One proposal is that sites that appeal to a broad audience, which may include kids, need to assume all users are under age, or screen users for age to decide if parental consent is needed. The lesson here, I think, is to play it safe, and either avoid collecting personal data or set up a system to get parental consent. Here’s a good resource. And just in case you’re wondering, Justin Bieber was not a party to the proceedings. I know. What a relief.