Whether your six year old has hijacked your iPad again to rediscover the inexplicable joy of flinging birds with a finger activated slingshot or to harness her mighty math powers in the origami-paved streets of Umi City, children are tapping into the spring of entertainment and educational value offered by the mobile applications marketplace. Yet, according to a study issued last week by the Federal Trade Commission “Mobile Apps for Kids: Current Privacy Disclosures are DisAPPointing”, the lack of privacy disclosures in these apps may hint at deeper laden privacy pitfalls which members of the kids app ecosystem may soon have to remedy.

The Federal Trade Commission recently announced its settlement with the operator of www.skidekids.com concerning allegations that the operator violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act Rule (“COPPA Rule”) by collecting personal information about children without obtaining parental consent. For Skid-e-kids, the FTC’s settlement means taking remedial measures; an injunction; and a $100,000 civil penalty. For the rest of us, the settlement is a good reminder that the FTC is staunchly committed to protecting children’s privacy. So when it comes to collecting personal information from children online, it’s important to do it right . . . or not at all.

Playdom, Inc., an online game company owned by Disney, and Playdom’s CEO, Howard Marks, agreed to pay $3 million to settle charges brought by the FTC that they violated COPPA by collecting, using and disclosing the personal information of children under the age of 13 without their parents’ prior, verifiable consent. The $3 million settlement is the largest civil penalty ever for a COPPA violation.

In mid-September, Maine’s “Act to Prevent Predatory Marketing Practices against Minors” is scheduled to take effect.  Due to the lack of a scienter element in several of the requirements of this new law, this Act could have far-reaching consequences for all businesses that engage in direct marketing or that sell or transfer personal information to third parties, even if the business does not have knowledge that the information regards a minor.

Kids like social networking sites, most notably MySpace and Facebook. So it is not surpising that law enforcement is scrutinizing how the sites protect children. Recent subpoenas issued to Facebook by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram are illustrative.

Both subpoenas sought information about Facebook’s Internet safety and security policies. The New York subpoena, issued last month, also sought information concerning Facebook’s complaint resolution procedures. In its subpoena cover letter to Facebook, Attorney General Cuomo noted Facebook’s public representations concerning how it responds to reports of pornographic material and inappropriate contact with minors.  It also described its undercover investigation of Facebook. According to the letter, the investigation revealed pornographic and other inappropriate content readily available on the site. In addition, after investigators set up profiles as young teenage users, they received inappropriate sexual advances. The investigators filed complaints about these issues through Facebooks’ complaint procedures. The letter notes various instances of non-responsiveness or delayed response to such complaints. The New Jersey subpoena issued earlier this month, described here, sought information from Facebook concerning convicted New Jersey sex offenders that Facebook has identified as site users.  Facebook previously informed the New Jersey Attorney General it had removed sex offenders with profiles matching individuals listed on the New Jersey sex offender registry. Attorney General Milgram also sent letters to eleven other social networking sites requesting they compare their registrants against the state’s sex offender list.