Whether or not you realized it, chances are you're already familiar with COPPA, or the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998. If you've entered your birthday to access something, or have ever checked a checkbox to verify you're over 13, you've seen COPPA in action. In a nutshell, it's a fairly outdated set of guidelines that need to be abided by online when dealing with children. When it was first drafted in the late 90's, the Internet was a vastly different place, and the existing laws have been more or less shoehorned into dealing with all the new technology and types of Internet-enabled applications that no one even dreamed of in 1998.
Broken Thumbs Apps' parent company W3 Innovations recently found themselves under the legal hammer and (so far) is the first company to be investigated for mobile apps. Their "games" include Zombie Duck Hunt [Free], Emily's Dress Up & Shop [Free], Pocket Home [Free] and more. In the complaint, the FTC alleges that W3 Innovations "collected, maintained, and/or disclosed personal information" via these kid-targetted apps. Specifically, W3 Innovations is said to have kept a list of over 30,000 email addresses as well as personal information gathered from both Emily's games.
Aside from being obvious freemium timesink-ware, Broken Thumbs Apps series of games don't really do anything out of the ordinary for many similar games. The source of these complaints seems to be the games asking for kids to enter their name, as well as being given the option to leave comments on a blog related to the games, which of course is all saved online.
W3 immediately agreed to settle with the FTC, ponying up the $50,000 fine as well as deleting all associated data. As much as it sucks to be made an example, iOS developers should take note that the FTC now seems to actively be policing COPPA violations in iPhone apps. It's likely better to be safe than sorry in these kind of cases, so if you're responsible for something that could even vaguely be construed as kid-centric and you're not using appropriate age gates before collecting data, it might be time to think about an update rectifying that sooner rather than later.
[via Ars Technica]