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A customer service representative at Nintendo recently told me that a parent can't let their Nintendo Account be used by their child for online play without violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) and that Nintendo can ban accounts for COPPA violations. A parent, he claimed, could only share their account with a child for offline play without violating COPPA.

I asked where within the Act such conduct is banned, and I was told I could find more information online. However, I thought that children under 13 can still legally give out personal information under COPPA so long as they have their parents' permission (although some sites like Facebook ban those under 13 simply to avoid having to deal with such issues).

Was the customer service representative correct in claiming that it violates COPPA for a parent to let their child use the parent's account for online gaming? What if the parent and child consent (which seems to be implied)? If this does violate COPPA, please show where within the Act it's banned.

Wikipedia article on COPPA: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/COPPA

Nintendo Account User Agreement: https://accounts.nintendo.com/term/eula/US?lang=en-US

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  • this strikes me as similar to US-based "SOX requires this" when it clearly does not. Nintendo just doesn't want to deal with it so they drop in in their T&C.
    – Tiger Guy
    Mar 2 at 20:56
  • @TigerGuy While Facebook, for example, certainly avoids COPPA regulations by banning children under 13, the Nintendo customer service representative suggested that Nintendo is okay with a parent sharing their account with a child unless the child's use violates COPPA. He then claimed that a child using online play through a parent's account would violate COPPA, which is the part I'm questioning. Am I correct in thinking that, so long as the parent and child agree to it (which seems to be implied), a parent sharing their Nintendo account with their child is permissible under COPPA?
    – The Editor
    Mar 3 at 15:13
  • I think that the only legal risk is to nintendo, and they are managing it via their T&C.
    – Tiger Guy
    Mar 4 at 2:10
  • @TigerGuy I added Nintendo's user agreement to the post. Based on the customer service representative's statement, I'm not sure if sharing an account with one's child violates Nintendo's terms either, even though the Nintendo representative (perhaps erroneously) said that such would violate COPPA.
    – The Editor
    Mar 5 at 20:43

1 Answer 1

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The COPPA regulations are here, and here is the FTC's explanation. The main thing to note is that there is no "ban" on children or parents, there is a "ban" on companies. The main features are that a company is forbidden from undertaking certain actions (in the realm of "gathering information") in circumstances that involve the internet and people under 13. The restrictions don't specifically say "you can(not) play a game online". But you can't gather information from children if that information in some way "identifies" the individual. The prohibition is against gathering such information from a child (not just information about a child), without "verifiable consent". Violation of the law results in severe fines, and it may be impossible to prohibit a child from providing forbidden information (even a recording of their voice is a violation). The procedures for obtaining "verifiable consent" are not trivial.

The second sense according to which a child ban does exist is "if you do this, you violate the TOS, and you are banned". That's the situation you describe. COPPA does not mandate this specific condition as part of the ToS, it is instead a business decision on the part of the service provider that such-and-such is the level of legal risk that they are willing to assume. The relation between the law and the ban is indirect – it's what's necessary to remain legally safe, in the judgment of the company.

Whether or not the ToS actually says what the agent thinks it says is a separate question: you would have to read the ToS for the account.

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