One of the biggest concerns of not just parents but families, too, is whether the children in their lives are protected. Are they safe and being treated well in school, at their day care centers, at their friends’ homes, or wherever they go?
When kids are little, we hold their hands as they cross the street. When they get a little older, we make sure they look both ways before they cross the street and may even keep an eye on them from a distance. When they become older still—and provided we’re confident in the lessons they’ve learned—we may let go a little more, simply asking them to let us know where they’re going and when they’ll be home.
But, in today’s digital world, the roads our kids travel take them beyond their own physical neighborhoods and schools into a virtual world that spans the globe. The nature of our digital world and the ease with which it can be manipulated makes it more difficult to make sure the people and websites our kids connect to pose no threat.
So, when it came time to develop our newest online reading program manager, we decided it would be fully compliant with COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. COPPA is a federal law that provides a set of rules to help keep kids under the age of 13 safe in the virtual world and to make sure their parents or guardians know about the sites they’re interacting with online. This is especially important, since very young children may not be equipped to make good decisions about the types and amount of information they share in the virtual world.
When developing Wandoo Reader, we at Evanced wanted to create a summer reading game that would connect kids to reading programs in a fun and engaging way. We also wanted kids to be safe. And we wanted parents, librarians, and other adults to feel confident that Wandoo Reader is a safe online platform. Our COPPA compliance is certified by PRIVO, an FTC-certified, independent “safe-harbor” company, which periodically will review Wandoo Reader to make sure it remains COPPA-compliant.
Current legal best practices for collecting information from and about children on the Internet is to require parental consent before kids can enter personal details online. For this reason, Wandoo Reader is designed to collect parental consent via email and then provide parents access to a portal where they can view and control what information their children enter.
Of course, we recognize that not all children have involved parents, and not all parents have Internet access.The lack of an email address doesn’t prevent a child from participating. Wandoo Reader is designed so that anyone can participate in the program.
Those who either do not want to or cannot provide a parental email address can still participate in the library’s reading program with the help of a librarian or other library staff. Because librarians receive special dispensation through COPPA to enter information from children without express parental consent, an email address is not required for registration on the library staff-facing side of Wandoo Reader.
The only limitation in this particular situation is that kids who register their accounts via a librarian (without providing parental consent via email) cannot later go online and independently log their own reading. In order to offer a program that was fully compliant with federal law, we had to limit the online access of kids under 13 to only those who can provide email-based parental consent. However, if a parent supplies his or her email to a library staff member at a later time, the system will trigger a consent confirmation email to that parent. That way, those children who originally registered via library staff would be able to log their reading online by themselves. Providing such assistance is an opportunity for librarians to get to know their youngest patrons and their families.
Laws and expectations of privacy will continue to evolve, and we will continue to do all we can to help protect children’s online data and to serve parents’ interests.