COPPA comes in force as of today July the 1st 2013

You may have heard about this or may be not. It the latter is the case, well as of today July the 1st 2013 the COPPA comes in force.

If your brain is still puzzled about what it is, no it’s not the Italian cured meat specialty typical of the southern regions, rather a new regulation to monitor and protect children data online.

Its acronym - Children Online Privacy Protection Action – is quite clear on this regard.

The Children Online Privacy act is something around since 1998, so it is anything new, but over time it has gone through many changes. This was until six months ago, when the final draft was approved and the US government gave all companies six months to adapt their platform in order to be ready with the new regulations.

In short, the first draft of the act said that children under 13 years old can not have their own email address, nor a Facebook account or anything else that requires a web site to store their personal and sensible data online.

The reality, unfortunately, is quite different as you may imagine. And that’s what the COPPA is trying to address.

Why am I talking about this? I’m not interested in writing an essay about the regulation and what it does mean for marketers. I’m confident that rivers of words have already been written on this regard and much more will flow into the net during the following days. This is because the extent of this regulation goes much beyond the simple registration form of a site (e.g. it affects also the display media and the ad server).

The reason I’m going to talk about this is because with my role as a Top Contributor for the Webmaster Forum with Google will lead me to answer many questions about this, I’m sure.

There is probably anything to worry for my Italian fellows as they are exposed to different rules about data protection. However, foreign-based web sites and online services must comply with COPPA if they are directed to children in the United States.

What has Google done to comply with COPPA?

Google is one, and being an American Corporation subject to the FTC laws it means they have had to adapt their online tools to reflect what the new regulations are.

So starting from the late GMT hours this afternoon (Morning time in the California) a GWT update will be rolled out introducing a new panel dedicated to the COPPA regulation.

With this new panel available, regardless you are the webmaster or the web site owner you must communicate to Google whether your web site is somewhat collecting or has any intent to collect children data.

Please pay attention to the latter statement: this includes also the intent. This means that even if are not doing this, but you will be doing in a close future, your will be required to abide to the COPPA regulations. By doing using the new panel, you will acknowledge the fact and Google will avoid the indexation of the specified site.

As an example, let’s say you have 1000 pages portal about online services: requiring children data even in just one page of your site will require you to flag your site, with all the connected consequences.

The webmaster tools feature can be applied to the entire site as well as a subdomain or subdirectory, but not at a page level. As usual Google may limit the number of domains or sub-domains you may include in the tag designation.

On the other hand, if your site is not collecting children data or if you are a non-profit organization, there is anything to worry about and you can even avoid looking at this new panel.

Assuming you are now yelling because of this fantastic news, there is anything I can add to explain what the consequences are from a search engine perspective (perhaps Google will delist your site J). However, whoever will be caught disobeying to the COPPA rules will be punished with a fine of $16,000 per case from the US government.

So I would probably think carefully to whatever you are doing. If you are interested more in the COPPA regulation, please have a look at the business section of the FTC web site.

That said, happy COPPA Monday to all.