Yelp, Inc., and mobile app developer TinyCo, Inc., recently settled separate sets of Federal Trade Commission allegations that each company collected personal information from children through their respective apps in violation of the Chlidren’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) Rule. According to the FTC’s complaint, Yelp collected personal information from children through its app without first notifying parents and obtaining their consent between 2009 and 2013. Specifically, during the registration process, several thousand registrants provided a date of birth that showed they were under the age of 13, and Yelp then collected their name, email address, location, and other content without, according to the FTC, obtaining parental consent. Similarly, TinyCo’s various child-directed apps (such as Tiny Pets, Tiny Zoo, Tiny Monsters, and others) included an optional feature that collected email addresses from users, including children under 13 without first providing parents with notice and obtaining consent. Both companies have agreed to delete information collected from consumers under 13 and implement COPPA compliance programs for FTC approval. In addition, Yelp will pay a $450,000 civil penalty, while TinyCo will pay a penalty of $300,000.
Tip: Under the COPPA Rule, online sites and mobile apps that collect personal information about children under 13 must first provide notice to and obtain permission from a child’s parents unless operating under a specific COPPA exception. To obtain consent, companies should ascertain a visitor’s age in a neutral manner, and then obtain verifiable parental consent using one of the acceptable methods outlined in the Rule.