A coding website directed to kids should modify its privacy practices and include the odds of winning a sweepstakes in a disclosure in order to achieve compliance with both the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and the Self-Regulatory Program for Children’s Advertising, the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) has recommended.

Operated by Kano Computer Ltd., the Kano.me website offers step-by-step toolkits that teach users how to program and code their own computers, among other products. According to the website, users can “Make apps, hack hardware, create games or code works of art” and “Share, learn from a cool community and remix friends’ ideas.”

The website also features the Kano World portal, where users can register, share their Kano creations and communicate with other users. In order to share and send messages, users must create a Kano World account. During the registration process, the site prompts a user: “Go find your mum or dad! Ask a parent, teacher or guardian to help (it’ll take less than a minute).”

However, the registrant is free to join without verifying that he or she has an accompanying adult, by simply clicking the “Join” button. The registrant is also asked for an email address and must accept the website’s terms and conditions. Although an email address is collected, no email is sent to notify the parent or guardian about information practices or that the child has registered.

At the bottom of its website, Kano advertises a sweepstakes offer: “Sign up to our newsletter to win a Computer Kit Complete. You’ll also receive the latest news, offers and projects straight to your inbox.” Users can enter and submit their email address, again without parental notification.

Based on its review of the site, CARU determined that the operator did not comply with the CARU Guidelines or COPPA with regard to privacy practices, and failed to clearly disclose the odds of winning a sweepstakes as required by the CARU Guidelines.

COPPA and the CARU Guidelines require that services use a reliable method of parental consent, and during its review, the self-regulatory body observed there was no privacy practice notice sent to parents or any attempt to obtain verifiable parental consent.

“CARU recommended that the Operator implement [a Federal Trade Commission (FTC)]-approved method for obtaining verifiable parental consent,” according to the decision. “The Operator informed CARU that it is currently working with legal counsel to implement more stringent rules to comply with COPPA and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).”

Turning to the sweepstakes problem, CARU emphasized that it is “especially sensitive to children’s inherent vulnerabilities and recognizes that sweepstakes have the potential to enhance the appeal of products to children. As such, special care should be taken when using sweepstakes to guard against exploiting children’s immaturity.”

The CARU Guidelines specifically require that the likelihood of winning must be clearly disclosed, in language readily understandable to the child audience, with disclosures such as “Many will enter, few will win.”

“After carefully reviewing the Website, CARU determined that it did not comply with the Guidelines because it did not contain a proximate disclosure revealing the odds of winning, which CARU has held must be located immediately adjacent to the promotional copy,” the self-regulatory body wrote. “Therefore, in order to comply with the Guidelines, a sweepstakes like the one here must set up the online registration process so that registrants will automatically view a precise description of the chances of winning before they are able to enter.”

To read the press release about the decision, click here.

Why it matters: Kano agreed to modify its advertising in accordance with CARU’s decision by implementing an FTC-approved method for obtaining verifiable parental consent and updating the online registration process so that prior to entering the sweepstakes, registrants will view a disclosure about the odds of winning.