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There’s no question that kids need to be protected from undue influence by advertisers, and that’s why we have laws like the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

But some recent changes in COPPA-related trends and rules are changing that protection in a way that could seriously threaten the revenue of kids educational gaming sites. These trends are taking away the advertising dollars that support free educational children’s games and potentially limiting the ability of publishers of free children’s content to support themselves without moving behind a paywall.

At Playwire, we partner with publishers to grow their revenue responsibly and sustainably. Part of that mission involves keeping publishers informed about laws, trends and other developments that could threaten their ability to earn a living. That’s what this post is about. Below, we examine some recent COPPA trends and how they are putting children’s publishers at risk.

No publisher has the time to stay informed about all of the rules and regulations that could harm their revenue — much less actually go out and advocate for fair, common-sense alternatives to these rules. But Playwire makes it a point to do more for publishers like you. Want a partner who can pack a punch when it counts? You want Playwire. Contact us.

The Basics: What is COPPA?

Before we can truly understand what’s going on with changes in COPPA and advertising meant for kids, we need to take a step back and understand what exactly COPPA is

COPPA is a United States federal law that was enacted in 1998. It imposes a wide range of requirements on those who own web properties directed at children younger than age 13. As the internet has evolved over the last 20-plus years, COPPA has been amended several times to keep up. 

At its most basic level, it’s a good law — good in the sense that it is meant to protect children from harm and privacy violations when they’re online. That’s why Playwire has taken it so seriously since our beginning. Our understanding and implementation of COPPA requirements for publishers has made us a trusted ad revenue partner to some of the biggest names in children’s websites.

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New Advisement from CFBAI for Food & Beverage Advertisers

There are two main parties you need to be aware of as you learn about some of the more recent and alarming changes to COPPA-related rules: 

  1. The Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU). A Better Business Bureau National Program, CARU is the first Safe Harbor Program for COPPA. Its stated purpose is to help companies comply with COPPA rules and take enforcement action when they fail to comply.
  2. The Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI). CFBAI is an arm of CARU that is dedicated specifically to food and beverage advertising COPPA compliance in relation to ads that target children younger than 12. One of the key requirements of CFBAI is that advertisers will not advertise food and beverage products in elementary schools.
  3. Kid Safe. This organization works with various groups from educators, to parents, to child-serving professionals in the community to help improve child safety, particularly online.

What Constitutes a School?

With those introductions out of the way, the next point to understand is that CFBAI issued a ruling during the COVID-19 pandemic regarding the definition of what “school” actually is. When the pandemic hit, schools were shut down and kids were learning from home. A complaint about a food and beverage ad on a free kids’ education website used during school hours at home escalated up to CFBAI. And they ruled that food and beverage advertisers cannot advertise on kids’ educational websites — period, and indefinitely. 

That’s when Playwire Global EVP of Sales Anthony Alexander decided it was time to speak up. He recently attended a CARU event and explained that, while the CFBAI decision likely had good intentions, it threatens the lifeblood of free educational games for children. 

Because food and beverage advertising is the single biggest source of revenue for kids’ games, blocking these ads entirely is threatening the profitability of publishers who make them, which may ultimately leave them having to put all of these currently free resources behind a paywall just to stay afloat. That would mean that thousands of kids from all socioeconomic backgrounds, many of which come from lower-income families might lose access.

Anthony’s actions sparked a debate that is still going at the time of this blog post’s publication, but for now, kids’ educational games are struggling to bring in the ad revenue that keeps them going.

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COPPA 2.0: An Existential Threat to Free Educational Games for Kids

While all of those developments with CARU and CFBAI were happening, another major threat to kids’ publishers was shaping up. It’s COPPA 2.0, a bill meant to enhance the protection of COPPA. One of the central proposals of COPPA 2.0 is to raise the age of kids included under the law from 13 to 18.

If this bill becomes law, publishers whose content reaches teenagers will likely see their sources of advertising dollars dry up overnight. This is taking protection too far — especially when there are more reasonable alternatives, such as consent management platforms that could allow parents to opt into advertising for teens on certain platforms, are readily available. The future certainly looks uncertain for kids’ publishers at the moment, but Playwire will remain a force seeking to help retain their ability to produce revenue through advertising.

The Plan: Keep Fighting for Publishers

No one can know what will become of COPPA 2.0 and similar regulations, but at the moment, publishers in the children’s space are facing a threat that borders on existential. We’re going to keep pushing — pushing for rule changes that make real sense for both publishers and advertisers. We promise to keep you informed at every step.

Whether you have questions about COPPA compliance or simply want to explore your revenue growth opportunities, we’re here for you. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact Playwire online

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