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Updates to COPPA

Privacy is important, and despite how the online world seems sometimes it can exist on the internet. This post is going to overview recent updates to privacy laws and provide you with important information about how your wiki may be impacted.

COPPA Overview

Federal-trade-commission

Photo by flickr user @jbtaylor, released under CC-BY.

The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is a United States federal law designed to limit the collection of personal information from people younger than 13 years of age. It was passed in 1998, and has been updated only once with a set of revisions that become effective July 1st, 2013. The Federal Trade Commission  (FTC) oversees the application and enforcement of the law. It applies to any website or service based in the U.S.

One popular misconception is that COPPA absolutely forbids anyone from using certain websites. While this can be a common outcome, the stated goal of the law is to make sure that websites obtain parental consent before they collect personal information from children younger than 13 years of age. Unfortunately, in the online setting, obtaining and verifying parental consent puts a legitimate strain on internet companies who would have to staff entire departments dedicated making sure that the parental approval was genuine.

Instead, most companies like Wikia choose to limit their service to users who are over the minimum age. In order to comply with COPPA, Wikia requires that all users must be 13 years or older at the time they sign up for an account. During the registration process, you agree to our Terms of Use. Part of that agreement is an affirmative statement that you are 13 or older. Lying about your age during the signup process is grounds for immediate account closure and a global block from our network. This is more than a simple Wikia policy, it is a means of making sure that we comply with federal law by removing personal information when we gain knowledge of an under-aged user.

COPPA Updates

As of July 1st, 2013 new changes to COPPA come into effect that require Wikia to make some slight adjustments with the way it handles data collection on some wikis in order to maintain compliance.

Some communities are more directed to children than others. To identify those wikis, we performed a comprehensive review of our largest communities according to the criteria set forth by the FTC. We looked at factors like the subject of the wiki, taking into account the rating, medium, genre, content, absence of explicit material, demographics, intended audience, actual audience, likely audience, and general accessibility. We also looked at the wikis themselves, and considered their visual content, layout, local character, and activity. The overall goal was to determine which wikis are a high risk for meeting the FTC’s criteria.

If your community is affected, please know that this is not meant to be disparaging. We know that a lot of great articles get written about shows that might appeal to younger people but still have a strong adult fanbase. While we know many subjects have fans of all ages, some are so appealing to underaged audiences that they qualify as being a high risk of falling into the directed to children category.

For sites in that category, we are not allowed to collect certain information. The biggest change to the law is that this information now includes IP addresses, which is the way MediaWiki software tracks anonymous edits.

To that end, Wikia staff will be turning off anonymous editing on high-risk wikis. While we generally support the ideal of open editing, keeping anonymous users from actively contributing to high-risk communities will help us to avoid running afoul of the data protection provisions of COPPA.

We have also adjusted the behavior of cookie placement on these wikis and taken further steps to ensure that we are not collecting any personal information without the requisite consent spelled out by the COPPA Rule. Please see our Privacy Policy for more information.

This will not impact previously registered users, and there shouldn’t be any disruption to the functioning of the wiki. Underaged users will still be able to read the content of the wikis, so they can still access the articles and other pages your communities have worked hard to build. However, they will no longer be able to actively edit or comment.

We realize that many anonymous users make valuable contributions to communities. This decision is not based on a value judgement against anonymous contributors. We sincerely hope that all contributors who are eligible for an account decide to sign up for one. You can do so here, and encourage current anonymous contributors to register for an account. For anonymous contributions that have already been made to the wiki, there will be no attempt to stifle or remove them as they date from before the recent updates.

You can learn more about COPPA and other privacy issues from our recent Webinar on Online Privacy.

As always, if you have questions or concerns please don't hesitate to reach out to Wikia staff via Special:Contact.

Update: Why My Community?

Now that the change has gone into effect, many of you will have seen a notice on your home wiki, which was included because it was flagged as being directed to children. If you feel this flag was an error and your community was either wrongly included or wrongly left out, please start an open discussion on a forum, message wall, or blog post at your community. Try to have your community members weigh in with reasons why they think the wiki is not actually directed to children, or why it is. While I can’t guarantee we will agree, we are certainly willing to listen to arguments that your wiki doesn’t actually belong in the category. You can send a link to the conversation to us via Special:Contact and we will take a second look.

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