MeetMe, Inc., a social networking website and mobile app operator, was recently sued by the San Francisco city attorney for alleged improper distribution of teenagers’ location information to sexual predators, stalkers, and potentially unscrupulous companies, compromising the privacy, safety, and security of California minors. According to the complaint, MeetMe “introduces users to new people and enable[s] them to interact with strangers online and in person.” There are many children between the ages of 13 and 17 that are members of MeetMe, and indeed the site is aimed at teens.
Of concern in the complaint was the fact that the mobile version of the service collects geo-location information from logged-in users. The purpose is to figure out if you have friends nearby, however the San Francisco attorney expressed concern in the complaint, alleging that this essentially meant that minors’ information was “broadcast to . . . thousands of other users, including sexual predators, stalkers, and other criminals.” While there is an explanation of the geo-location use in the website user terms, the city attorney argues in the complaint that it is invalid since minors would not truly understand what they were agreeing to. According to the complaint, several men have solicited—and been arrested for soliciting—sex with teens using MeetMe’s search and chat functions. The complaint alleges that the company has engaged in unlawful business practices in violation of Business and Professions Code Section 17200 of the California Unfair Competition Law.
TIP: This complaint demonstrates that regulators—and consumers—have heightened expectations of the steps that should be taken to protect minors in an online forum. While no responsive pleading has yet been made and it is unclear what the outcome of this case will be, companies that collect data from minors may want to review not only their security practices, but also the steps that they take to get informed consent from their users.