Wanna Violate COPPA? Developer Finds Out That There's an App for That

Mobile Apps are big business. As of early July, Apple estimated that more than 15 billion apps have been downloaded for its popular iPhone and related products. Our blog even has an app and has contributed, in a modest way, to that total. While many apps don't require you to provide personal information, some do. And yesterday, in case there was any doubt the FTC made it clear that it views apps as sending and receiving information over the internet and thus are online services subject to its Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The FTC entered into a settlement with a developer of several apps designed for children, including Emily's Girl World and Emily's Runway High Fashion, that were listed in the Games-Kids section of the App Store. The apps allowed children to email "Emily" comments and submit blogs and post information on message boards. As a result, the FTC alleged that the developer collected personal information, such as email addresses and other personal information posted on message boards, from children under the age of 13 without parental notice and consent. The developer agreed to pay a $50,000 penalty and to delete all personal information it collected in violation of COPPA. COPPA enforcement continues to be a "hot" item for the FTC and clearly anyone marketing an app for children should take a look at their information collection practices and perhaps avail themselves of the safe harbor certification process offered by organizations such as the National Advertising Division's Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU). In addition, even if an app is not "directed" toward children, a company marketing an app for adults can also violate COPPA if it knowingly collects personal information from a child under the age of 13 without parental notice and consent. It's also worth noting that the definition of "personal information" is quite broad and can include the use of a "persistent identifier, such as a customer number held in a cookie that is associated with individually identifiable information. Still not sure what to do? A search of the App Store this morning yielded no hits for COPPA compliance but just wait. Maybe there'll soon be an App for that . – Randy Shaheen

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