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Safe Harbor for Online Children’s Advertising

5 Aug, 2014 By: Arthur Yoon, Jeffrey Richter

While most advertisers know that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) can protect children from unfair and deceptive marketing practices, many advertisers are not aware that the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus can also challenge an advertisement directed to children under the age of 12 that CARU believes violates its guidelines. CARU is the children’s arm of the advertising industry’s self-regulation program and evaluates child-directed advertising and promotional material in all media to advance truthfulness, accuracy and consistency with its Self-Regulatory Program for Children’s Advertising guidelines and relevant laws.

CARU is responsible for evaluating, investigating and holding negotiations with an advertiser and resolving complaints or questions from any source involving the truth or accuracy of national advertising, or consistency with its guidelines. When CARU finds violations, it seeks changes through the voluntary cooperation of advertisers. If an advertiser declines to respond or refuses to comply with CARU, it can report the advertiser to the FTC. CARU challenges advertisers that feature products that pose safety risks to children, fail to make material disclosures, mislead children about a product’s performance and pressure children to buy products. Accordingly, advertisers should review the guidelines to ensure compliance prior to advertising to children.

Advertisers that operate child-directed websites and mobile applications fall within the jurisdiction of both the FTC and CARU. When the FTC amended its Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA), which made operators of child-directed sites and apps strictly liable for the collection of personal information (including in connection with behavioral targeting) through their services, CARU followed and updated its guidelines to reflect the revised COPPA.

Advertisers should review their privacy practices to ensure compliance with the revised COPPA. Advertisers should make sure that the products featured are appropriate for children, their disclosures are understandable to the child-directed audience, and their advertisement does not pressure children to purchase products or mislead children about a product’s performance. Advertisers should ensure that any ad networks or other third parties on their sites or apps are not behaviorally targeting children and should implement agreements with these third parties to that effect.

As an extension of CARU’s mission to help advertisers deal sensitively with the child audience in a responsible manner, it established a Safe Harbor Program for advertisers to help them protect the privacy of children online, and meeting the requirements of COPPA and its guidelines. The Safe Harbor Program has been approved by the FTC.

CARU’s Safe Harbor Program includes the following components: advertiser’s full adherence to the requirements set forth in CARU’s Safe Harbor Participation Agreement; advertiser’s compliance with CARU’s Self-Regulatory Program for Children’s Advertising, including the Guidelines for Online Privacy Protection; review by CARU staff of the advertiser website’s information practices; ongoing monitoring by CARU staff of the advertiser’s website to assess and ensure compliance with the Safe Harbor Program; completion of CARU’s Self-Assessment Form and Attestation by the advertiser; and submission to CARU of an updated Self-Assessment Form and Attestation on each anniversary of the date of acceptance in the Safe Harbor Program.

While application to the Safe Harbor Program may be burdensome, advertisers who adhere to the guidelines are deemed in compliance with COPPA and essentially insulated from FTC enforcement action as long as they comply with program requirements.

Jeffrey Richter and Arthur Yoon are attorneys at Blank Rome LLP. They can be reached at (424) 239-3400 or via E-mail at and

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