In its first case involving mobile apps, the Federal Trade Commission settled with a mobile app developer and owner over charges that they violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by collecting information from children under the age of 13 without their parents’ prior consent.
The defendants agreed to pay $50,000 to settle the charges.
In its complaint, the agency alleged that the defendants – owner Justin Maples and W3 Innovations, doing business as Broken Thumbs Apps – collected and permanently maintained tens of thousands of e-mail addresses from apps like Emily’s Girl World, Emily’s Dress Up, and Emily’s Runway High Fashion.
The agency said there were more than 50,000 app downloads for games like “Truth or Dare,” all of which were listed in the “Games-Kids” section of Apple’s App Store and were directed to children.
The apps also included features like a blog, which encouraged users to post “shout-outs” to friends, ask advice, submit art and pet photographs, and write comments on blog entries that provided users the chance to freely post personal information, the agency said.
According to the FTC, the defendants failed to provide notice of their information-collection practices and did not obtain verifiable consent from parents prior to collecting, using, or disclosing their children’s personal information, all in violation of the COPPA Rule.
“The FTC’s COPPA Rule requires parental notice and consent before collecting children’s personal information online, whether through a website or a mobile app,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a statement about the settlement. “Companies must give parents the opportunity to make smart choices when it comes to their children’s sharing of information on smart phones.”
In addition to the $50,000 civil penalty, the defendants agreed to refrain from future violations of COPPA, agreed to delete all personal information collected in violation of the Act, and consented to compliance monitoring for a three-year period.
To read the consent decree in U.S. v. W3 Innovations, click here.
Why it matters: The suit was the agency’s first action involving mobile apps and should serve as notice to businesses that the FTC has apps and related privacy issues on its radar. The suit follows through on testimony earlier this year by the agency that it had “a number of active investigations into privacy issues associated with mobile devices, including children’s privacy.”