App maker hit with fine for collecting kids’ data

Kids’ app maker W3 Innovations has paid the Federal Trade Commission $50,000 to settle charges that it collected personal information about children without their parents’ consent.

It was accused of violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and the FTC’s COPPA Rule by illegally collecting and disclosing personal information from tens of thousands of under-13s without their parents’ prior consent.

It’s the Commission’s first case involving mobile apps.

“The FTC’s COPPA Rule requires parental notice and consent before collecting children’s personal information online, whether through a website or a mobile app,” said FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz. “Companies must give parents the opportunity to make smart choices when it comes to their children’s sharing of information on smart phones.”

W3 Innovations develops and distributes mobile games apps for the iPhone and iPod touch. Several, including Emily’s Girl World, Emily’s Dress Up, Emily’s Dress Up & Shop, and Emily’s Runway High Fashion, were targeted at children and listed in the Games-Kids section of Apple’s App Store. There have been more than 50,000 downloads of these apps.

But the Emily apps encouraged children to email ‘Emily’ and submit blogs via email, with messages such as ‘shout-outs’ to friends and requests for advice. The FTC says the company collected and maintained thousands of email addresses from users of the Emily apps.

It also, says the FTC, allowed children to publicly post information, including personal information, on message boards.

The FTC’s COPPA Rule requires website operators to gain parents’ consent before collecting, using, or disclosing children’s personal information – but, says the FTC, W3 failed to do so.

As well as paying the $50,000 penalty, W3 has been ordered to delete all personal information collected in violation of the rule.