The kids are back in school, and yet another company – now Amazon – is facing a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) lawsuit for billing parents millions of dollars in unauthorized app purchases made by their children. This lawsuit comes after Google and Apple were charged with similar complaints, resulting in over $55 million in civil penalties between the two of them. What does this all mean? We need age-appropriate accounts where kids can pay for things online with full parental visibility and approval.

If you’re a parent, you know that kids under 13 need special accounts designed to protect their unique privacy and safety needs under the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). COPPA requires online companies to seek verifiable consent from a parent or guardian and protect young users’ privacy and safety online more stringently than adult accounts. It’s designed to keep our young users safer on the Internet and provide their parents piece of mind regarding their children’s online anonymity.  


However, instead of offering COPPA-compliant accounts for kids, many companies just don’t offer children accounts, forcing parents to provide their kids with their credit card or login information when they are purchasing items or games online, which sometimes leads to unauthorized purchases.

What we’re seeing is a growing need for minors to have access to these kinds of accounts with full parental visibility and approval. They are useful even for children over 13, who may be old enough to make some financial decisions of their own but still need parental permission before they make purchases.

The good news is that services like this exist. I’m on the board of a company called Oink, which was designed from its inception to be COPPA-compliant.  It is the first – and so far only – COPPA-compliant payment platform for kids and their families.

Not only do designated accounts for minors better protect their safety and privacy online, they also teach kids about money. We live in an increasingly cashless society where it’s harder for kids to learn about the value and limit of money. Every parent of a pre-teen or teen is familiar with being asked to “borrow” money, but kids often don’t understand how to budget or appreciate their parent’s limited resources.

On Oink’s platform for instance, kids have a virtual wallet where they can set aside money for savings, give to charity, and shop online or in stores using the Oink app. Child-friendly accounts make it easier for families to coordinate and track their expenses. Meanwhile, kids can learn how to save and budget their money with a sense of autonomy, and parents can help them with the peace of the mind that their kids are safe.

Ideally, technology should make our lives safer and easier. As consumers, we need to demand that our corporate leaders provide our parents with tools that are both functional and compliant with the laws designed to protect our children.

This Cyber Security Awareness Month, I ask corporate leaders to consider their policies for protecting both their customers and soon-to-be customers. Facebook is already moving the needle on COPPA-compliancy. They made Oink available for everyone under 24 so that when their users buy things through Facebook, they too can be protected by their Oink account. We can’t protect our kids forever, but we can do this for them.

It’s my hope that Amazon, Apple, Google, Yelp and the thousands of other companies that are being used by young people in America join Oink in prioritizing COPPA-compliancy. Oink has proven that it is possible to teach our kids financial responsibility and independence without having to give up their safety and parental controls.

Maintaining online safety and privacy is an ongoing and continuous process, and we know there are workable solutions out there for our kids. Join us this Cyber Security Awareness Month in making sure you are doing your best to keep our youngest citizens protected.

Codling is a member of the board of Oink, a COPPA-compliant payment solutions company for kids.