A nine-year-old (and possibly her father) may have solved one of the testiest problems for retail-related mobile sites aimed at kids: How to keep from running afoul of parental-permission requirements.
The biggest risk comes from the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a 1998 federal law that got a new set of rules last December. COPPA, which is enforced by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, limits the data that retailers can collect about children and how it can be used for marketing, but most problems can be avoided by getting verified parental consent for kids who are 13 or under. How do you do that? That's the retailer's problem.
And that's where Alexandra Jordan comes in with the website she developed (with her father) earlier this month at the TechCrunch Disrupt hackathon, Super Fun Kid Time. It's a site for kids to schedule playdates, but what's interesting is how a child registers on the site: She doesn't. Or, more accurately, she registers her parents. Then the parents get an e-mail for confirming the account. There's no secondary process of confirmation—it's the parent's e-mail account and the parent's verification. Only once that comes through can the child log on to request playdates—and once the kids negotiate a playdate, all the parents of the kids involved get confirmations by e-mails or texts.
Can a system like this still be cheated by kids trying to pass for 14? Sure. The FTC proposes a range of options for parental verification, including electronic scans of signed parental consent forms, videoconferencing, use of government-issued identification and—probably most useful for retailers—use of existing online payment systems. That raises the ante for any cheating child (stealing and using a credit card just to get into a retailer's kids' loyalty program is a much bigger deal than just lying to a website about age), and also gives the retailer more legal cover, since a small charge would show up on the parent's credit-card bill.
More important, putting parental consent before anything else demonstrates that it's a priority for the retailer. And when a retailer is facing the FTC, going with the nine-year-old's idea really is the adult thing to do.