FTC: Trample Children’s Privacy, and You’ll Pay the Price

The FTC has levied a $50k fine against the developer of such children’s apps as Zombie Duck Hunt, Truth or Dare and Cootie Catcher, Emily’s Girl World, Emily’s Dress Up and Emily’s Runway High Fashion, for collecting information from children without first gaining parental consent.

W3 Innovations was charged with collecting and storing children’s email addresses and allowing children to post personal information on public message boards, a violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) which requires parental consent for data collection about or from a child under the age of 13.

The apps found in violation of COPPA laws were marketed towards children in the Apple App store where more than 50,000 downloads were made before the FTC discovered the company was encouraging children to independently enter personal data through the games according to an article on digitaltrends.com. Additionally, the Emily apps encouraged children to email comments to “Emily” on the Emily blog.

Jon Leibowitz, the chairman of the commission said in a statement, “The F.T.C.’s COPPA Rule requires parental notice and consent before collecting children’s personal information online, whether through a Web site or a mobile app. Companies must give parents the opportunity to make smart choices when it comes to their children’s sharing of information on smart phones.”

This marks the first mobile COPPA case the FTC has reviewed, and it is unlikely to be the last. While I wholly support the protection of children’s privacy and regulations around obtaining parental consent, the antiquated methods currently employed to gain this consent need some rethinking.

In an age of instant access, companies and parents must be able to exchange an information request and verifiable consent within moments or the experience for the child wanting to play a game is really poor.

Industry, it’s time to step up to better methods for authentication and approval, those who don’t will find their apps aren’t used.



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