FTC Announces New COPPA Enforcement Action & Mobile Privacy Staff Report

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At a press conference this morning, outgoing FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz announced an $800,000 settlement of its recent enforcement action against Path, the operator of a social networking app. The Path mobile app allowed users, including children, to create and share journals across their social network. The FTC had alleged violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA.

Mr. Leibowitz stated that the agency believed Path had “unlawfully collected personal information” by crawling users’ mobile address books as part of a feature meant to identify friends within the users’ social network. The FTC identified the lack of affirmative consent from the app user as its primary concern in bringing the enforcement action, and advised social networking app makers to obtain affirmative “just-in-time, opt-in” consent before accessing a user's contacts. The agency explained that “just-in-time” notice is notice offered to the user when the user is likeliest to notice and appreciate it.

Mr. Leibowitz stated that Path’s action had affected about three thousand children aged twelve and under.

Emphasizing its increased interest in mobile privacy, the FTC simultaneously announced the release of a staff report, Mobile Privacy Disclosures: Building Trust Through Transparency. Commenting on the report, Mr. Leibowtiz offered three overarching suggestions for developers operating in the mobile app space: "Say what you'll do, don't mislead, and safeguard the data."