Feds officially kick off campaign to nail COPPA violators. Here’s why you should care

by Richard Byrne Reilly on September 18, 2014

Feds officially kick off campaign to nail COPPA violators. Here’s why you should care

The feds have officially kicked off their hotly anticipated crackdown on IT firms violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

The first two victims are review site Yelp, which announced on a little noticed blog post yesterday it had settled for $450,000 and admitted it had been collecting names and other identifiers of children in violation of COPPA. Yelp is now faced with the task of making it harder for underage children to register with the site. Yelp chalked up the issue to a bug in its systems.

In a press release that dropped today, the FTC officially announced that in addition to Yelp, it had sued mobile app developer TinyCo for a similar violation. TinyCo settled the charges for $300,000 and agreed to take steps to make sure its protocols were in line with COPPA. While both sums are small drops in the buckets for both companies, the FTC’s moves portend a continued crackdown in a bid to get companies compliant.

“I can tell you there’s very few gaming companies out there that are COPPA compliant. So it should be easier for the FTC to fine them and many others for violating the law,” said AgeCheq founder and chief executive Roy Smith, who has been pounding the drums since April that the feds would soon begin enforcing COPPA.

“In the past, they went after Sony and Disney for millions, and I expect there’s more to come, and it’s likely the fines will fall under the ‘gee whiz’ category for millions,” Smith said.

Indeed, AgeCheq produces frictionless software that helps gamers and mobile app developers, and parents themselves, comply with the law. Smith said business is booming.

Yelp apparently knew it was in violation of COPPA but did nothing to rectify it, the FTC said. Indeed, the FTC asserted that Yelp was collecting personal information from kids between 2009 until 2013 through its mobile app without letting parents know what was going on with their children. The FTC collected information, enough of which was used to cement its case, that Yelp failed to implement what it called a “functional age-screen in its apps.”

COPPA applies to kids 13 and under.

For Yelp, the issue doesn’t end there. The San Francisco-based review site must also scrub from its servers information collected from children 13 and younger at the time they registered for the service. In other words, there’s much more work it has to do.

As for the popular app maker TinyCo, the feds claimed outright the company was targeting children in direct violation of COPPA, marketing its games like Tiny Monsters, Tiny Village, and the Mermaid Resort to youngsters under 13. The FTC said that once inside some of the apps, kids accrued what are called in-game currencies, or virtual goods, that enabled them to move up the games’ ladder. The FTC said TinyCo allowed this to happen while collecting PI’s, or personal identifiers, from kids 13 and younger.

According to the FTC’s release this afternoon:

“In addition to the $300,000 civil penalty, under the terms of its settlement with the FTC, TinyCo is required to delete the information it collected from children under 13. The settlement will also require the company to comply with COPPA requirements in the future and submit a compliance report to the FTC in one year outlining its compliance with the order.”

“The easiest way to avoid COPPA problems is to make sure your game doesn’t gather or capture any information. If you do that, you will have no issues whatsoever. If you want to make money with your game, you either have to run ads or make your game a “toll gate” game,” Smith said.

The FTC’s move against Yelp mirrors the fines it levied against Apple, Google, and Amazon this year. The feds called those cases “family fraud,” in other words, while the intent to charge kids for unauthorized app purchases wasn’t a calculated or malicious act on the part of the companies, it was understood that kids using their parents’ devices were were being charged without adequate notification.

Apple and Google settled for over $60 million combined, while Amazon is fighting the FTC.



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Tim Cook to Apple customers: Your privacy is top priority

by Kia Kokalitcheva on September 18, 2014

Tim Cook to Apple customers: Your privacy is top priority

On the heels of an iCloud hacking scandal and the launch of Apple Pay, a new service highly dependent on security, Apple chief executive Tim Cook is trying everything possible to ensure we keep calm, and continue uploading.

Today, Cook released a public statement on a new privacy-focused Apple webpage to reaffirm Apple’s commitment to user data and security, especially when it comes to services with sensitive information such as iCloud and Apple Pay. He also encourages user to use two-step verification, and assures them that Apple is not in the business of collecting and selling their information or sharing it without their knowledge or consent. He writes:

We believe in telling you up front exactly what’s going to happen to your personal information and asking for your permission before you share it with us. And if you change your mind later, we make it easy to stop sharing with us. Every Apple product is designed around those principles. When we do ask to use your data, it’s to provide you with a better user experience.

We’re publishing this website to explain how we handle your personal information, what we do and don’t collect, and why. We’re going to make sure you get updates here about privacy at Apple at least once a year and whenever there are significant changes to our policies.

A few years ago, users of Internet services began to realize that when an online service is free, you’re not the customer. You’re the product. But at Apple, we believe a great customer experience shouldn’t come at the expense of your privacy.

Our business model is very straightforward: We sell great products. We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers. We don’t “monetize” the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don’t read your email or your messages to get information to market to you. Our software and services are designed to make our devices better. Plain and simple.

He adds that Apple does indeed have an advertising service, iAd, but that it “sticks to the same privacy policy that applies to every other apple product.” It doesn’t touch the data from the Health app, HomeKit, Maps, Siri, iMessage, or any of the iCloud-based services, and users can opt-out altogether.

Cook also says that Apple has never worked with any government agency, created backdoors in its products, or allowed access to its service. In the last year or so, several giant tech companies have come under fire for allegedly giving into such governmental requests.

The rest of the website is made up sections that cover the security aspects of Apple’s products and services, tips and approaches to managing security including passwords and Touch ID, governmental information requests, and Apple’s privacy policy. It’s a bit of one-stop-shop for all things Apple privacy.

Still, I’m sure most people would love to see the steps Apple is taking to close the back door in iCloud that’s apparently been open for the past two years — those celebrity photos were much easier to steal than you think.

Apple designs and markets consumer electronics, computer software, and personal computers. The company's best-known hardware products include the Macintosh line of computers, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. Apple software includes t… read more »

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