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Charles B. Sears Law Library SUNY Buffalo Law School

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Up Social Media Creek Without a Paddle

Posted on: | by Christine Anne George |


Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? SpongeBob SquarePants! With an app recently pulled for possible COPPA violations by he? SpongeBob SquarePants!

This past Monday, the Center for Digital Democracy filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission alleging that SpongeBob Diner Dash, a free app featuring the popular Nickelodeon character SpongeBob SquarePants, is in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. COPPA was enacted in 2000 to protect children under the age of thirteen from privacy violations online. The law contains marketing restrictions, privacy policy standards, and parental consent requirements for any website or online services targeted towards or used by children under the age of thirteen. Today the FTC announced amendments for COPPA that will bring the twelve-year-old law up to speed to today’s social media.

According to the CDD’s complaint, the app collected children’s email addresses and other personal information without requiring children to ask their parents first, and violates COPPA’s marketing restrictions by using push notifications. Nickelodeon temporarily pulled the app from the Apple and Google Play stores while it investigated the complaint. But, today, the Nickelodeon resubmitted the app, claiming that it was unfairly accused of COPPA violations.

Online privacy—particularly with social media—has been a constant concern, but really reached fever-pitch over the past couple of weeks. First there was the Facebook hysteria over copyright protections. Then, just a couple of days ago, Instagram learned what happens when a sleeping giant is rudely awoken with an announcement that advertisers will gain more access to photos on its site. In case you haven’t heard, the results aren’t pretty, with National Geographic, the hacktivist group Anonymous, and countless individual users calling for a boycott. In response to the outrage, Instagram pulled a Qwickster-esque turnaround and promised to remove the offending policy language, but even that has not smothered the fire.  It seems that society is now attuned to privacy issues online and more than willing to read the fine print.

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