Q: I run a child-directed app. I would like to screen users so that I only have to get parental consent from children under age 13, not from everyone who uses the app. May I?
A: It depends. Because of its very nature, in most instances, a website or online service (such as an app) directed to children must treat all visitors as children and provide COPPA’s protections to every such visitor. This means that for the most part, a website or online service directed to children may not screen users for age.
However, the amended Rule provides for a narrow exception for a site or service that may be directed to children under the criteria set forth in FAQ D.1 above, but that does not target children as its primary audience. For instance, a child-directed site may target children under age 13, as well as parents or younger teens. An operator of a site or service meeting this standard may age-screen its users if it: (1) does not collect personal information from any visitor prior to collecting age information, and (2) prevents the collection, use, or disclosure of personal information from visitors who identify themselves as under age 13 without first complying with the amended Rule’s notice and parental consent provisions. See 16 C.F.R. § 312.2 (definition of “Web site or online service directed to children,” paragraph (3)). Importantly, as an operator of a website or online service directed to children, you may not block children from participating in the website or online service (see FAQ D.4 below).