iOS developer to pay $50,000 fine over child privacy

The Federal Trade Commission says W3 Innovations will pay the fine to settle charges that the company violated the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
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Emily's Dress Up & Shop is included in the FTC fine.
Emily's Dress Up & Shop is one of the apps cited by the FTC in the settlement announcement. W3 Innovations

An iOS developer has been fined $50,000 for allegedly violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, the Federal Trade Commission announced yesterday.

COPPA is a far-reaching act, requiring Web site operators to notify and obtain parent or guardian consent before children's personal information is collected, used, or disclosed. Privacy policies that are clear and understandable for parents are also required.

According to the government organization, iOS developer W3 Innovations, which is doing business as Broken Thumb Apps, violated COPPA in several of its applications, including Emily's Girl World, Emily's Dress Up, Emily's Dress Up & Shop, and Emily's Runway High Fashion. According to the FTC, the company's games, which let kids design outfits and create virtual models, have been downloaded over 50,000 times.

The violation, the FTC alleges, relates to W3's collection of "thousands of e-mail addresses" from kids who posted comments and requests for advice on "Emily's Blog." In addition, the FTC alleges that the company allowed kids to post personal information on message boards without "verifiable parental consent."

"The FTC's COPPA Rule requires parental notice and consent before collecting children's personal information online, whether through a website or a mobile app," Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a statement accompanying the fine announcement. "Companies must give parents the opportunity to make smart choices when it comes to their children's sharing of information on smart phones."

This is by no means the first time the FTC has fined a company for violating COPPA. In May, the organization announced that Disney's social-gaming service Playdom was ordered to pay $3 million in fines for requiring children to share their ages and e-mail addresses during registration without the consent of parents.

"Let's be clear: Whether you are a virtual world, a social network, or any other interactive site that appeals to kids, you owe it to parents and their children to provide proper notice and get proper consent," Leibowitz said in a statement at the time. "It's the law, it's the right thing to do, and, as today's settlement demonstrates, violating COPPA will not come cheap."

Aside from its "Emily" line of titles, W3's Broken Thumb Apps has developed Santa's Run, a holiday game for kids, as well as Beer Toss. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the FTC ruling.