Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store dumped three dating apps after the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent a warning letter to their operator about apparent FTC Act and Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) violations.
In a letter to Yevgen Yatsenko, the agency expressed concern that Ukraine-based Wildec—the operator of Meet24, FastMeet and Meet4U—allowed children as young as 12 to access the dating apps.
For example, in the testing of Meet24, agency staff members could search for other users by age and location to find users nearby who indicated that they were as young as 12 years old.
Because the operator appeared to have actual knowledge that children were using the apps, the operator was subject to COPPA and was required to provide notice and obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting, using or disclosing personal information about those users, the FTC explained. “Your failure to do so appears to violate COPPA and its implementing Rule,” Maneesha Mithal, associate director of the FTC’s Division of Privacy and Identity Protection, wrote to Yatsenko.
Mithal also asserted that a dating service available to minor children is “extremely problematic.” She added, “Facilitating other users’—including adults’—ability to identify and communicate with children—even those 13 or over—poses a significant risk to children’s health and safety.”
Several individuals in the United States have faced criminal charges for communicating or attempting to communicate with minors via Wildec’s apps, the FTC said, noting that in certain circumstances, allowing children to create public dating profiles could be an unfair practice in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act.
“Accordingly, we urge you to ensure that your apps, in all versions available in the app stores or currently installed on user devices, are compliant with the requirements of COPPA and/or the FTC Act,” Mithal wrote. “Among other things, this will entail immediately removing personal information from children on your service, seeking parental consent before allowing minors to access your products and eliminating any feature that allows users to specifically search for other users who are minors.” FTC staff will be reviewing the apps in the coming weeks to assess whether they are compliant, Mithal added.
To read the FTC’s letter, click here.
Why it matters: The FTC had several problems with the dating apps, including alleged COPPA violations for failing to provide notice and obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting and using the information of those under the age of 13, and for permitting children as young as 12 to use the apps and interact with adults. Rather than wait for Wildec to make the directed changes, Apple and Google removed the apps from their stores after receiving copies of the letter, the FTC announced.