Social networking app Path settled a case with the Federal Trade Commission today, paying $800,000 for allegedly violating kids' privacy on its site. The FTC also released a new privacy report, with recommendations for protecting consumers using mobile devices.
The FTC charged Path with violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by collecting private information from children under 13 without their parents' consent. The site let kids upload journals that included photos and their location, and it also collected personal information from their contacts, including names, addresses, phone numbers, birth dates, and other information.
On its blog, Path said "As you may know, we ask users' their birthdays during the process of creating an account. However, there was a period of time where our system was not automatically rejecting people who indicated that they were under 13." According to the FTC, about 3,000 kids were affected.
The FTC complaint also charged Path with misleading consumers, because it collected and stored information from their contacts without their knowledge or consent as part of its Add Friends feature. The company agreed to establish a privacy program and be audited by an independent privacy firm for 20 years.
The agency also released a report, Mobile Privacy Disclosures, that outlines its recommendations on how app stores and developers should protect consumer privacy. Those include providing timely disclosures to consumers and obtaining their consent before accessing information such as location, contacts, photos, and other data; adding a dashboard that helps users review the content an app is accessing; and offering a Do Not Track option that lets users prevent tracking by third parties.
The FTC says the mobile industry should follow its recommendations to avoid possibly stricter laws in the future. "If companies don't take meaningful self-regulatory actions, Congress often tells them to do so," said FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz. "Privacy is about as bi-partisan an issue as you can find."
—Donna L. Tapellini