Protecting Kids' Privacy Is Costly

Most Web site operators agree that protecting kids' privacy online is a worthy endeavor. But complying with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) can carry a high price tag.

FreeZone Network, for instance, estimates it spent $96,000 to make its site compliant with the act, according to Alison Pohn, the Chicago-based company's managing director.

"We're welcoming COPPA," said Pohn, "particularly to educate parents and kids about what's happening on the Web."

The FreeZone site, geared toward children ages 8 to 14, has 600,000 registered users. When a child under 13 registers at the site, the birth date will kick the user to a parental consent form that must be faxed to the company, Pohn said.

The company estimates it spent the following:

• $53,130 on safety content, data entry, legal advice and background checks for staffers.

• $28,980 on database management, online forms, incoming faxes, mailing costs and handling, and storing parental permission slips.

• $14,490 on equipment, space and utilities needed to carry out staff functions.

Other companies have taken a different tack.

"Our way to be compliant is to just not allow kids 12 and under on the site," said Karen DeMars, president of, a San Francisco-based site devoted to kids talking about their teen-age crushes. "We just didn't have the manpower to verify all the parental consents, and there's just no faking that."

Eliminating children under 13 from the site cut eCrush's audience of 350,000 users by about 5%, she said. The additional staffing and programming needed to comply, however, would have cost an additional $50,000 - too big a price tag given that the site runs at an annual cost of about $1 per user, DeMars said.

- DeWayne Lehman

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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