On November 8, 2011, the Federal Trade Commission announced that the operator of skidekids.com, a social networking website that advertises itself as the “Facebook and Myspace for Kids,” has agreed to settle charges that he collected personal information from approximately 5,600 children without parental consent, in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”) Rule. The proposed settlement will bar future violations of COPPA and misrepresentations about the collection, use and disclosure of children’s information.

According to the FTC’s complaint, the Skid-e-kids website specifically targets 7 to 14 year-old children and their parents as an alternative social networking site where “parents are in charge.” The website operator, Jones O. Godwin, however, permitted children to register their birth date, gender, username, password and email without requesting a parent’s email address. Once a child registered, he or she may upload pictures and videos, search for and befriend other Skid-e-kids members and send messages to other members. According to the FTC, Godwin made no attempt to notify the registering child’s parents or obtain parental consent for the data collection. The alleged failure to notify parents contradicted the website’s online privacy policy which indicated that parents would be contacted to activate their child’s account and would receive communications about the child’s account and Skid-e-kids’ privacy practices.

Godwin’s alleged conduct violated the COPPA Rule requiring website operators to notify parents and obtain their consent before they collect, use or disclose personal information from children under 13 years of age. The complaint further claimed that the false representations in the Skid-e-kids privacy policy constitute a deceptive trade practice in violation of the FTC Act.

The settlement order prohibits future violations of COPPA and misrepresentations about the collection and use of children’s information and requires Godwin to destroy information he collected in violation of COPPA. Additionally, he must, for a period of time, link to online educational material and retain an online privacy professional or join a FTC-approved safe harbor to oversee any COPPA-covered website he may operate. Lastly, the FTC’s announcement states that the proposed Order would include a $100,000 civil penalty, that may be reduced to $1,000 if Godwin provided truthful information about his financial condition and complies with the Order’s oversight provision.