In a recent letter to the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”), Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn), expressed their concern regarding a recent study, which “indicates that numerous apps directed at children have been accessing geolocation data and transmitting persistent identifiers without parental consent” in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (“COPPA”). In addition, the senators voiced concerns that parents are being misled by app developers, the advertising companies they work with, and app stores because such apps are placed in the “kids” or “families” sections of app stores. In other words, these apps should not be marketed as appropriate for children if they are engaging in activity that violates COPPA. The senators urged the FTC to review the extent to which app developers, advertising companies, and app stores are complying with COPPA. The senators requested a response from the FTC by October 31.

The study referenced in the senators’ letter comprised of a review of 5,855 “child-friendly” apps for compliance with COPPA. The researchers found that approximately 57% of these apps were engaging in activity prohibited by COPPA. For example, the researchers concluded that over 1,000 of the apps analyzed shared persistent identifiers with third parties. Furthermore, they found that 235 of the apps analyzed accessed geolocation information without verifiable parental consent, with a number of apps also sharing this information with advertising companies.

A copy of the senators’ letter to the FTC can be found here.

Our take

COPPA was designed to protect children under the age of 13 from overreaching by marketers by providing parents control over what information is collected from their young children online. This increased scrutiny by lawmakers of the data collection and use practices of child-friendly apps should serve as a reminder for app developers to review their products, and the terms of their agreements with the advertising companies they work with, for compliance with COPPA.