In its first case involving mobile applications, the Federal Trade Commission has fined app developer W3 Innovations $50,000 for failing to comply with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.
According to court papers, W3's subsidiary Broken Thumbs Apps, which makes such mobile games as Emily's Dress Up, Zombie Duck Hunt and Truth or Dare, violated the data compliance policy by collecting personal information on children without requiring parental consent. The app developer was also charged for storing children's email addresses and allowing children to post information on public message boards.
On its website, the FTC stated that there have been more than 50,000 downloads of Broken Thumbs' apps, which are generally targeted at children and require them to submit personal information.
Under COPPA, which was established in 1998, website operators are required to notify parents and receive their consent before collecting, publishing or using personal information of children under 13 years old. According to court documents, W3 allegedly violated the act by collecting 30,000 email addresses, among other infringements.
“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 in a statement. "Companies must give parents the opportunity to make smart choices when it comes to their children’s sharing of information on smartphones."
The FTC noted that W3 will also be require to delete any personal information it collected that violates COPPA.
Though this is the FTC's first case involving mobile apps, it won't likely be the last, as the popularity of smartphones and tablets continues to grow. Given the number of consumers willing to submit personal information to access these apps, it is imperative that developers adhere to data protection regulations to avoid fines and a loss of consumer confidence.