The New Jersey Attorney General and Division of Consumer Affairs have announced a settlement with 24x7digital, the developer of the “TeachMe” mobile apps for preschool through second-grade children, to resolve claims that the company violated the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”).
The state alleged that children were encouraged to submit their full names, along with a photograph, when they created user profiles, and that the apps disclosed the user’s full name and the mobile device’s unique device identifier (“UDID”) to a third-party data analytics company. According to the state’s complaint, 24x7digital ran afoul of COPPA by failing to provide notice or obtain parental consent before collecting, using, and disclosing the children’s personal information online.
Under the statute, a state attorney general may sue for violations of COPPA on behalf of the residents of the state to (i) enjoin the practice; (ii) enforce compliance with the FTC’s COPPA rule; (iii) obtain damage, restitution, or other compensation on behalf of the state’s residents; or (iv) obtain such other relief as the court may consider to be appropriate. However, before filing the action, the attorney general typically must notify the FTC and provide a copy of the complaint. The FTC then has the option of intervening in the case.
Although this is not the first COPPA action that a state has brought (Texas sued three website operators in 2007), most states have left COPPA enforcement to the FTC. With an increased attention on the privacy practices of mobile apps, however, these kinds of cases may become more common. For its part, the New Jersey AG has stated that it will continue to investigate other mobile applications to determine if they are unlawfully sharing users’ personal information.