Emerging Markets Law

State Enforcement of COPPA, Federal Online Advertising Law

On September 13, 2016, the New York Attorney General announced settlements with four major US toy and media companies regarding their use of online tracking of children who use their websites. Viacom, Inc. (Nickelodeon), Hasbro, Inc. (My Little Pony), and Mattel, Inc. (Barbie, Hot Wheels, American Girl) are among the companies fined a collective $835,000 for violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

The use of online ad trackers is not permitted with respect to children. In general, the federal government, through the Federal Trade Commission, enforces the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. The settlement is unusual in that it comes from a state-level regulator (and was praised by the FTC). 

The takeaway? Even without federal attention, your advertising and tracking practices may be subject to scrutiny, investigation, and fines. Be careful!

New York tracked online sites for two years before undertaking these settlements. Because websites are, by definition, crossing state lines, it is conceivable that other State Attorneys General may try to get in on the act. Trumpeting one's pro-child, anti-advertising, pro-privacy bona fides is very voter friendly. And because COPPA is so broadly written, it is easy to fall into the trap of violating the law even if you are not trying to attract children to your site. 

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