Potential violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and the COPPA Rule triggered letters to two foreign companies from the Federal Trade Commission, cautioning that their apps and devices may run afoul of the statute.
China-based Gator Group Ltd. advertises an app and the “Kids GPS” Gator Watch, which is marketed as a “child’s first cellphone.” The app connects to the watch and collects the child’s name. It can also track the child and enable the user to set an alarm for when the child leaves a geo-fenced “safe zone.”
Similarly, Sweden’s Tinitell marketed an app and mobile phone “designed for kids, with calling and smart location features.” The app connects to the phone, which is worn like a watch by the child, and can locate the wearer, call the child and add contacts, among other features.
“The primary goal of COPPA is to place parents in control over what information is collected from their young children online,” Maneesha Mithal, Associate Director of the FTC’s Division of Privacy and Identity Protection, explained in the letters.
“You appear to have provided an online service, as defined by COPPA, through your watches and app, which is available to consumers in the United States,” the FTC wrote to Gator Group. “This online service appeared directed to children, and it appears to collect precise geolocation information from children. The COPPA Rule requires companies directed to children that collect this type of personal information to, among other things, provide direct notice and obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting, using or disclosing it. A review of your online service indicates that you do not appear to do so, which appears to have violated COPPA and its implementing Rule.”
The agency encouraged both recipients to review their policies and procedures for compliance, noting that COPPA’s requirements are not just applicable at purchase, but remain ongoing (even for Tinitell, which no longer sells its devices but states on its website that they will work through September 2018).
In addition to publicizing the letters, the FTC sent copies to Apple’s iTunes store and Google’s Play Store.
To read the warning letter to Gator Group, click here.
To read the warning letter to Tinitell, click here.
Why it matters: The FTC sent a message with the warning letters about the scope of COPPA application. As the agency wrote, the “COPPA Rule applies to foreign-based websites and online services that are involved in commerce in the United States. This would include, among others, foreign-based sites or services that are directed to children in the United States, or that knowingly collect personal information from children in the United States.”