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NJ authorities get developer to agree to notify parents before sending child apps

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

CLIFFVIEW PILOT SCOOP: An educational mobile app developer has agreed to stop collecting personal information from children, then passing on the information to marketers without telling parents, thanks to pressure by New Jersey’s attorney general and the state Division of Consumer Affairs.

24×7 Digital LLC, developer and operator of the “TeachMe” series of 99-cent apps for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, has also agreed to destroy all data it had collected and forwarded before the state went to federal court in Newark to stop the practice, under a consent decree signed by both sides.

The order prohibits the Los Angeles-based company — and its owners and operators, Mark Yamashita and Rei Yoshioka — from collecting or transmitting children’s personal information in the future without:

providing notice on its website or in its apps about the types of information to be collected and the ways it is to be used;

directly notifying parents:

obtaining verifiable parental consent.

“This is a clear victory for children’s privacy in the age of mobile devices and the easy transfer of personal information,” Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa said. “Parents should be aware that smartphones and similar devices are able to gather a great deal of information about users, including their identities and even their geographic location.”

As CLIFFVIEW PILOT first reported on June 6, the state’s lawsuit is the first of its kind in New Jersey under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). It is also the first suit filed as a result of the Division of Consumer Affairs’ ongoing initiative against Internet privacy violations and acts of cyber-fraud, according to a division spokesman.

“TeachMe: Kindergarten” is currently Apple’s 12th most popular education app, state authorities said. Its “TeachMe: 1st Grade,” is ranked 21st on Apple’s App Store website. “TeachMe: 2nd Grade” is 25th, and “TeachMe: Toddler” is 32nd.

Besides math and spelling programs, the series features a virtual aquarium, sticker sheets, and “silly stretchable shapes.”

Investigators found that 24×7 passed on information — including first and last names and photos — of children to a third-party data analytics company “without providing notifications of this policy on its website and without obtaining consent from the young players’ parents,” a clear violation of COPPA, state authorities said.

COPPA mandates that parental consent be obtained before a company can collect personal information from a child under the age of 13.

Congress enacted the  measure in 1998 in response to concerns that commercial websites were collecting and disseminating children’s personal information without notification or consent. Lawmakers were also concerned over a growing number of companies using the information to target children and their families, target them for commercial prodicts.

At the time, roughly 3 million children younger than 18 were using the Internet. That number has since soared to 61.7 million.

A Federal Trade Commission report released in February, “Mobile Apps for Kids: Current Privacy Disclosures are Disappointing,” describes how Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems for mobile devices include powerful capabilities to monitor the behavior and location of their young users.

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