On February 5, 2018, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced its most recent Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) case against Explore Talent, an online talent agency marketed to aspiring actors and models.1

According to the FTC’s complaint, the company provided a free platform for users to find information about auditions, casting calls, and other opportunities. Users could sign up for accounts and create publicly available, searchable profiles that included personal information such as names, email addresses, telephone numbers, and mailing addresses. The company’s privacy policy stated that it did not knowingly collect personal information from children under age 13 and that accounts for users under 13 had to be created by a legal guardian. In practice, however, users selected their “age range” during registration, which included options of 0-5 and 6-12 years old. On a later registration screen, the company specifically asked for users’ birthdates.

The FTC alleged that Explore Talent allowed more than 100,000 children under age 13 to register on the site, and made no attempts to provide the required notice or obtain parental consent under COPPA. In addition, Explore Talent did not place any restrictions on users who indicated they were under 13, so all profiles were publicly visible, meaning that people with accounts—and unregistered visitors to the site—could search for users by name, location, and age. Further, adults registered on the site could send direct private messages to children without their parents’ knowledge or consent.

Separately, the complaint also alleged violations of the FTC Act related to Explore Talent’s claims regarding its premium services. According to the complaint, the company placed unsolicited calls to users of the free service, in many cases falsely claiming that a casting director had specifically chosen that person for a part in an upcoming movie, and telling the user that he had to upgrade to the pro membership to apply.

Pursuant to the consent order, the company is required to pay $235,000 of a partially suspended $500,000 civil penalty, to delete the information it previously collected from those under the age of 13, and to comply with future COPPA requirements. The case serves as a good reminder that COPPA compliance is not just for kids’ sites. Under Section 312.3 of the COPPA Rule, sites of interest to a general audience also may be covered by COPPA if they have “actual knowledge” that they are collecting personal information from children.2 Thus, if a company asks for age or birth year, it should have COPPA-compliant practices in place for the collection of information from users who indicate they are under age 13.

1 Press Release, FTC, “Online Talent Search Company Settles FTC Allegations it Collected Children’s Information without Consent and Misled Consumers,” February 5, 2018, https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2018/02/online-talent-search-company-settles-allegations-it-collected.

2 16 C.F.R. § 312.3.