FTC announces first mobile app case

There are some combinations that raise immediate compliance issues for responsible businesses — and kids’ privacy and mobile applications are among them.   A settlement announced by the FTC — the agency’s first involving a mobile app — sends the important message that consumer protection laws and rules apply with full force in the mobile marketplace.

W3 Innovations, which does business as Broken Thumbs Apps, develops and distributes mobile apps.   Several of their apps, including the Emily’s Girl World, Emily’s Dress Up & Shop, and Emily’s Runway High Fashion apps, were directed to children and were marketed in the Games-Kids section of Apple’s App Store.  The Emily apps, which had more than 50,000 downloads, allow kids to play games, create virtual models, and design outfits. The apps encouraged them to email Emily’s Blog with shouts-outs to friends or requests for advice.

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule requires parental notice and consent before companies collect kids’ personal info online, whether through a website or a mobile app.  According to the FTC, W3 Innovations collected and maintained thousands of e-mail addresses from users of the Emily apps without giving notice of their information collection practices and without getting verifiable parental consent. That, says the FTC, violated the COPPA Rule.

In addition to a $50,000 civil penalty, the settlement — which names both the company and its president — bars future COPPA violations and requires them to delete all kids’ personal information collected in violation of the Rule.

Today the FTC also released Living Life Online, a resource for children with short articles, activities, quizzes, and an ask-the-expert column.  Being online is part of kids’ lives. Living Life Online helps them be better digital citizens. Share it with your children or with parents of kids wrestling with topics ranging from cyberbullying to cell phone bill shock.  Order free copies from the FTC’s bulk order page.

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