There is a federal law, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), that requires app developers to obtain parental consent before collecting information from children under the age of 13. The law has been on the books for a long time, yet companies are not always in compliance with it.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has jurisdiction to investigate and fine companies that do not follow COPPA. In the past week, the FTC levied a fine against Kurbo by WW (previously known as Weight Watchers) for collecting data from children as young as eight without parental consent.
The Kurbo app allows users to manage their weight by tracking their eating and exercise. According to the FTC, “Advertised as a weight management service for kids, teens, and families, the Kurbo by WW app and website let kids as young as 8 track their weight, food intake, activity, and more. The problem? Many parents didn’t know their kids were using it, while the app and website were collecting and keeping information about kids without their parents’ permission.” The information collected included name, phone number, birth date, and persistent identifiers, including device IDs corresponding to specific accounts.
The FTC settled the alleged COPPA violations with Kurbo and its parent company, WW International, for $1.5 million. WW also agreed to “delete all personal information collected from kids under 13 without parental permission, and destroy any algorithms that used this illegally collected information. In the future, they must destroy any information they collect from kids under 13 if it’s been more than a year since the kid used their app.”
Although it is comforting to know that the FTC is working for families and enforcing COPPA, families can take a proactive role in protecting their children’s’ information that is collected and shared online by monitoring the websites and apps they use and educating them on how their information is collected, used, and can be protected. Having conversations with kids about their online behavior and keeping an open dialogue about which websites and apps they want to download, and use will help them formulate decisions on how they want to share their information. Such dialogue will foster open communication and, together, children and parents can review the website and app privacy policies to discuss how the company will collect, use, and disclose the child’s information. Then, with a parent’s consent, a child can learn how to make informed decisions at an early age, which will instill safe online habits as they get older.
Have a conversation with your kids about which websites and apps they use and inform them about COPPA so you can help them protect their information and not rely solely on the FTC.