WebRef Update: Featured Article: COPPA & WAI - New Hurdles Point Out Solid Lessons - Part 2 | WebReference

WebRef Update: Featured Article: COPPA & WAI - New Hurdles Point Out Solid Lessons - Part 2

COPPA & WAI: New Hurdles Point Out Solid Lessons

What Does it Mean to me?

Does the average developer even need to worry about this? Well, maybe. The ways that COPPA might be interpreted by the courts is still somewhat fuzzy (at least to a non-lawyer like myself). If your site is explicitly targeted at children, or if you know that children are using your site, you need to be compliant with COPPA. If you fail to do so, you leave yourself open to possible legal action, and a $10,000 fine. If your site does not knowingly collect information from children, you're probably fine. Of course, popular services like Yahoo and ICQ have yanked part or all access for anyone they suspect is under the age of 13, just to be on the safe side. If they're addressing it this aggressively, you know they're concerned about their liability.

Making your site COPPA compliant is fairly straightforward, though may be logistically difficult. First off, you need to have a clear privacy policy listed on your site. The FTC states that "the policy must be available through a link on the site's homepage and at each area where personal information is collected from kids. Websites for general audiences that have a children's section must post the notice on the homepages of the section for kids." (www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/edcams/kidzprivacy/adults.htm)

You need to provide a means for the parent to give or decline consent, and to review any information that you may have collected about their child. You also need to realize that the parent has the right to remove consent at any time, and have all information about their child deleted from your records.

Making your site more accessible to the disabled is also fairly straightforward, and in line with general usability guidelines that people like Jakob Nielsen and others have been pushing for on the Web-at-large for years. Make sure your pages are navigable by any browser. Flash interfaces can be snazzy, and Java menus nifty, but either provide access to alternate, text-based interfaces, or allow your "eye candy" to degrade gracefully. Use ALT tags with all graphics, so people with audio-based (or purely text-based) browsers can get something out of your site. Similarly, consider providing text transcripts or summaries of multimedia or plugin- dependant content, such as streaming audio interviews. In general, try to avoid frames as layout and navigation devices.

Not only are these good ideas in general, given the general browser soup that we all still live and work in, but they'll also aid you in getting your site ready for the barrage of wireless Internet appliances (phones, tablets, PDAs and the like) that will be exploding in popularity over the next few years.

These are American laws being addressed, of course, and the Internet is an international space. This doesn't mean that similar laws or guidelines don't exist (or won't appear) elsewhere in the world. The W3C, for example, is an international standards body, and the lessons that lay behind their recommendations are global in scope. Privacy, respect and usability are good for all users, and should be goals for all Web developers - even if they aren't being threatened by a legal stick.

Additional Resources

Bobby 3.1.1 - "A Web-based Accessibility Analyzer"

"Is Your Site ADA-Compliant, or a Lawsuit-in-Waiting?"

WAI Quick Tips Reference Card

Getting Started: Making a Web Site Accessible

Previous: What are COPPA & WAI?

This article originally appeared in the May 4, 2000 edition of the WebReference Update Newsletter.


Comments are welcome
Written by Eric Cook and

Revised: May 5, 2000

URL: http://webreference.com/new/coppawai2.html