Behind the seal: What does it mean to be a CARU Safe Harbor company?

Mar 4, 2021 by Cameryn Gonnella, Compliance Manager, Children's Advertising Review Unit

When the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) became law in 1998, it authorized the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to approve industry groups to administer self-regulatory programs implementing the protections for children outlined in the COPPA Rule. The Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) was the first such group in the U.S. to receive FTC approval.  

One of more than a dozen industry self-regulation programs that are part of the independent non-profit organization BBB National Programs, the Children's Advertising Review Unit maintains this FTC approval and embraces its role as the first – and longest-running – COPPA Safe Harbor Program. Not only must companies who participate in CARU’s Safe Harbor Program comply with the COPPA Rule, but they must also comply with the CARU Advertising Guidelines, a set of standards for advertising that help ensure advertising directed to children is not deceptive, unfair, or inappropriate. 

Today, online consumers are faced with several trust seals that purport to demonstrate that a business is concerned with privacy, security, and its business identity. Sometimes a company may offer different types of trust seals that have ambiguous meanings at best. When it comes to children’s privacy, only a COPPA Safe Harbor seal ensures that the site or service complies with the stringent requirements of the COPPA Rule. 

What does the Children's Advertising Review Unit seal signify? More than anything else, it signifies trust. Our Safe Harbor participants commit to upholding a higher standard regarding their treatment of children’s information. As a result, they are able to display our seal, a logo that just got an updated look this year.  

The trust begins with the Children's Advertising Review Unit Safe Harbor Program, the only one in the U.S. to address both children’s online privacy and children’s advertising. Companies certified by the program, who comply with both sets of guidelines, are virtually insulated from certain enforcement actions from the FTC.  

The certification is available for a broad range of online services, from websites to mobile apps, to connected products such as wearables or smart toys. The Children's Advertising Review Unit also certifies companies that are not entirely directed to children; mixed audience and even general audience sites benefit from the Safe Harbor Program because they can demonstrate that their site or service complies with the COPPA Rule, if and when it applies to children. 

Participants in the Children's Advertising Review Unit Safe Harbor Program gain access to a broad range of services, including:

  • Comprehensive Audits – A comprehensive review of any “product,” i.e., website, mobile app, platform, or connected device/toy (“IoT”) to evaluate your data collection practices for compliance with relevant standards and laws.
  • Complex Advertising Guidance – Guidance on your company’s data collection practices as they relate to complex but common data collection practices including sweepstakes/contest rules and SMS/MMS campaigns.
  • Data Tracking Assessment – Thorough review of your product to vet all data collection, including first- and third-party trackers, including applicable data collection issues/practices of online/digital advertisements, APIs, plugins, third-party vendors (including but not limited to credit card processors, analytics providers, and ad networks) as well as embedded video content.
  • Review/Reconciliation of Privacy Documents – Review of your privacy policy, terms of service, and/or EULAs to ensure necessary requirements are met as pertaining to targeting a child audience (directly or indirectly), including implementation of short-form privacy policies and upfront/just-in-time consumer notices.
  • Findings Assessments – A written assessment of all issues found by the Children's Advertising Review Unit, as it relates to targeting children (directly or indirectly), as well as clear recommendations and specific direction on next steps to achieve compliance with program requirements and applicable laws.
  • Developer Checklists – Privacy by design at the outset of product development facilitated with a checklist for your developers, tailored upon request and consultation.
  • GDPR Guidance/Consultation – Hands-on support for top-level issues and, where applicable, a referral to our colleagues at BBB EU Privacy Shield to assist you with further compliance.
  • Ongoing Guidance – Access to our lawyers for ongoing counseling via email or phone with fast turnaround and sensitivity to your deadlines. This includes continued review and advice when product content and/or data collection practices change.
  • Regular Monitoring – Ongoing reviews of your products to ensure you remain in compliance, alerting you to changes or issues outside of regular compliance reporting periods.
  • Educational Access – Access to quarterly webinars, conferences, guidance and resources, client bulletins, and on-site staff visits with privacy training upon request.
  • Advertising Pre-screen Reviews – Safe Harbor membership includes one advertisement pre-screen, which covers review of scripts, storyboards, “rough cut” draft, and/or final edit of advertisements with live-action, moving frames, with or without audio.  

 

So what’s behind the CARU seal?

Before a company can display our seal on any of its products, it must undergo a holistic and comprehensive audit process evaluating each facet of a product. Beginning with a review of the product itself, we identify any areas where information is collected including passive data collection by first-and third-party trackers, such as cookies, plugins, or mobile SDKs.

The Children's Advertising Review Unit also evaluates whether advertising is present on or about a product and examines sweepstakes or marketing campaigns a company might be running. From there, we extensively review a company’s privacy policy to ensure it clearly and accurately describes any data collection practices. 

This thorough review ensures both compliance with the law and consistency with the Children's Advertising Review Unit voluntary advertising guidelines protecting children from deceptive or inappropriate advertising.

A CARU Safe Harbor Program seal reflects a company’s dedication to its customers' privacy and to maintaining high standards in advertising to children. Through the proud display of its seal, a company indicates that it takes the protection of children’s information online seriously, helping to assure families that a product is privacy-safe for their children to use.  

 

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