On Monday, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that mobile application developer W3 Innovations, LLC (d/b/a Broken Thumbs Apps), has agreed to pay a fine of $50,000 in order to settle charges that it collected and disclosed personal information from children under the age of 13 without first notifying parents of information-collection policies or obtaining verifiable parental consent, in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and the FTC’s COPPA Rule (16 C.F.R. Part 312). This was the first FTC case involving mobile applications, commonly known as "Apps."
The FTC’s complaint alleged that several of the apps offered for download from Apple, Inc.’s App Store by Broken Thumbs, and its president and owner, Justin Maples, were directed at children under the age of 13. The complaint further alleged that Broken Thumbs collected personal information from children through the online operation of these apps. Among the apps mentioned in the complaint were Emily’s Girl World, Emily’s Dress Up, Emily’s Dress Up & Shop, and Emily’s Runway High Fashion. According to the FTC release, "the Emily apps encouraged children to email ‘Emily’ their comments and submit blogs to ‘Emily’s Blog’ via email, such as ‘shout-outs’ to friends and requests for advice." The complaint alleged that Broken Thumbs had collected over 30,000 email addresses and had “collected, maintained and/or disclosed personal information from over 300 Emily’s Girl World app users and approximately 290 Emily’s Dress Up app users who have registered to submit comments.”
While the FTC had already publically indicated its view that COPPA applies to mobile services, not just Web sites, this is the first enforcement action by the FTC to illustrate that interpretation. The FTC noted that the Broken Thumbs apps “send and receive information over the Internet, and thus are online services directed to children pursuant to COPPA."
As part of the settlement, Broken Thumbs has also agreed to not violate COPPA in the future and to delete all personal information obtained in violation of COPPA.