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1 - Sbdd Letter Final

1 - Sbdd Letter Final

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Published by Kate Freeman

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Published by: Kate Freeman on Dec 18, 2012
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Hope M. Babcock Angela J. CampbellBrian WolfmanDirectorsThomas GremillionAnne KingLaura M. Moy*Margot J. PollansBlake E. ReidStaff Attorneys600 New Jersey Avenue, NW, Suite 312Washington, DC 20001-2075Telephone: 202-662-9535TDD: 202-662-9538Fax: 202-662-9634* Admitted to the Maryland bar only; DC bar membership pending. Practice supervised by members of the DC bar.
December 17, 2012Donald S. ClarkSecretaryFederal Trade Commission600 Pennsylvania Ave., NWWashington, D.C. 20580Re: Request for Public Comment on the Children’s Online PrivacyProtection Rule, No. P104503Requests to Investigate “Mobbles” and “SpongeBob Diner Dash,”Two Child-Directed Mobile ApplicationsDear Mr. Clark:The Center for Digital Democracy (“CDD”), by its attorneys, the Institutefor Public Representation (“IPR”), writes to supplement the record of the COPPARule Review with information about how child-directed mobile apps collectpersonal information from children without notifying parents or obtaining theirconsent. Today we are also filing a Request for Investigation of the child-directedmobile app “SpongeBob Diner Dash,” which collects personal information fromchildren without providing notice and obtaining parent consent as required bythe COPPA Rule. This is the second Request for Investigation we have filed in aweek; last week we asked the Commission to investigate a child-directed app
Children’s PrivacyDecember 17, 2012Page 2 of 5
called “Mobbles,” which also collects children’s personal information withoutproviding notice and obtaining parental consent.
 The problems CDD discovered with Mobbles and SpongeBob Diner Dash,detailed in our Requests for Investigation, are representative of mobile appoperators’ widespread disregard for COPPA. Indeed, a report released just thisweek by the FTC revealed that out of 400 popular children’s apps surveyed, astaggering 59% shared device ID, geolocation, or phone numbers with adeveloper or third party, yet only 20% provided any privacy disclosurewhatsoever to users or their parents.
 Consistent with the FTC’s findings, we found one or both of the apps weexamined in-depth to be collecting the following: email address, social networkinformation, geolocation, friends’ contact information, and a unique identifierthat enables developers to directly contact children via “push notifications.”Mobbles had no public privacy policy at all; SpongeBob Diner Dash had aprivacy policy available on the web but inaccessible in the app at the point ofinformation collection. Neither app made any attempt to notify children’sparents of their information collection practices or to obtain verifiable consent.Mobbles is operated by a very small company, while SpongeBob Diner Dash is a joint venture of children’s gaming giants Nickelodeon and PlayFirst, suggestingthat companies of all sizes operate child-directed apps that are not COPPAcompliant.Not only does mobile apps’ collection of children’s personal informationwithout parents’ knowledge or consent violate the law, but it violates parents’expectations as well. In a recent survey commissioned by CDD and CommonSense Media and conducted by Princeton Survey Research AssociatesInternational, a clear majority of parents surveyed thought it was “wrong” foradvertisers to track and record a child’s behavior online, with 90% of parents
See CDD Charges Mobile Game Company with Violation of COPPA, Urges FTC Action—While KidsCapture Virtual Pets, Mobbles Captures Personal Information from Children
, Center for DigitalDemocracy (Dec. 11, 2012), http://www.democraticmedia.org/cdd-charges-mobile-game-company-violation-coppa-urges-ftc-action-while-kids-capture-virtual-pets-mob.
Fed. Trade Comm’n,
 Mobile Apps for Kids: Disclosures Still Not Making the Grade
13 (Dec. 2012),
available at
Children’s PrivacyDecember 17, 2012Page 3 of 5
saying it is not okay for advertisers to do this kind of tracking in exchange forfree content. 91% of parents said that it was not okay for advertisers to collectinformation about a child’s location from that child’s phone.Mobile app operators’ widespread noncompliance with the COPPA Rulesuggests that app operators either disregard their responsibilities under COPPAbecause they do not fear legal repercussions for failing to meet them, or areunaware of these responsibilities altogether. For COPPA to protect children andkeep parents informed of their kids’ activities online, as it was intended to do,operators must both be aware of their COPPA obligations and commit tocomplying with those obligations.CDD urges the FTC to step up enforcement of the COPPA Rule againstmobile app operators. At this time the FTC has brought only one enforcementaction against a mobile app operator.
But smartphones and tablets withdownloadable apps have been popular for a number of years, and access to theInternet via mobile app is rapidly catching up to traditional Internet access usinga computer. Indeed, a Common Sense Media research study released in 2011reported that while 68% of families with children ages 0-8 had high-speedInternet access at home, almost as many—52%—had access to a smartphone, avideo iPod or similar device, or an iPad or other tablet.
The FTC’s search of appstores in July 2011 for the term “kids” yielded over 8,000 results in the AppleApp Store and over 3,600 in the Android Market.
The Commission needs to goafter child-directed app operators that ignore COPPA both to send a message tooperators that children’s privacy obligations are to be taken seriously, and toreassure parents that the child-directed apps they and their children downloadare in compliance with the law.Merely stepping up enforcement, however, will not be enough; the FTCmust also follow through with the proposed revisions to the COPPA Rule thatwill clarify child-directed app operators’ responsibilities. The Rule should make
United States v. W3 Innovations
LLC, No. CV–11–03958 (N.D. Cal., filed Aug. 12, 2011).
Common Sense Media,
Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America
9 (Fall 2011),
available at
Fed. Trade Comm’n,
 Mobile Apps for Kids: Current Privacy Disclosures are Dis
4 (Feb.2012),
available at

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