The Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) and Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) filed comments today with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), raising important questions about the Commission’s oversight of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The comments came in response to an application submitted to the FTC by AgeCheq, Inc., which is seeking approval of its proposed “verifiable parental consent” (VPC) technology. VPC methods, such as credit card verification or parents calling a qualified representative and confirming their identities, are the protection families have from companies accepting consent from children instead of their parents. Without proposing such new method, AgeCheq’s approach to VPC purports to offer a streamlined means by which already-verified parents can give permission to mobile app and game developers to collect personal information from their children, as required by COPPA for children 12 and under. But according to this detailed analysis of AgeCheq’s application, not only does the company fall far short in its VPC approval effort, simply cobbling together existing parent-verification methods rather than offering something genuinely novel, the company itself is in violation of COPPA and other law.
As the organizations’ comments make clear, AgeCheq “is deceiving its customers, treating parents unfairly, violating COPPA, allowing children to impersonate their parents and approve all future information collection by any app, and is unnecessarily collecting sensitive personal information from parents outside its COPPA duty to verify their identities.” For these reasons CDD urges the FTC not only to disregard AgeCheq’s VPC application, but also to open an investigation of the company for “multiple unfair and deceptive offenses.”
CDD Legal Director Hudson Kingston, who conducted the investigation of AgeCheq’s formal application and business practices, detailed the group’s concerns about AgeCheq’s proposal: “We found that AgeCheq’s application was so insubstantial that instead of showing how it complies with COPPA, it suggests strongly that the company is acting deceptively and unfairly, in breach of the FTC Act and COPPA,” he explained. “On its face the application has no showing that would support AgeCheq’s ability to help companies verify parental identities in a new way. There is no proof the company’s system works, or even a full description of what it does. Such submissions should raise alarms with FTC staff, and they are not sufficient to satisfy COPPA’s standards. We are concerned that any approval of AgeCheq’s application would put FTC in the position of supporting the practices of a company that it should be investigating for violations.”
CDD’s comments also raise concerns about the FTC’s lax oversight of COPPA. “Rather than investigating a company that is undercutting and harming COPPA compliance with an assortment of deceptive and unfair practices,” the filing declares, “the FTC decided to help this company by publicizing its product through this notice and comment proceeding. Approving this application would make FTC complicit in this company’s deceptive and unfair practices.”
“Today’s complex ‘Big Data’ digital marketing era, where we can be tracked and targeted when we use mobile phones, apps, and social media, requires the FTC to do a better job protecting the privacy of children,” said Jeff Chester, CDD’s executive director. “The commission is statutorily required under COPPA to do so, including ensuring that parents can make effective decisions about the process. CDD believes the FTC must do a better job enforcing COPPA. Otherwise it is failing to lead on privacy.”
“There are myriad reasons to reject AgeCheq’s application, most notably because it will leave children vulnerable to privacy abuses in the name of so-called efficiency,” said Josh Golin, Associate Director of CCFC. “In addition, AgeCheq exploits well-meaning app developers who truly want to be COPPA compliant. We urge the Commission to demonstrate its commitment to COPPA enforcement by dismissing this woefully inadequate application.”
A copy of the organizations’ FTC filing is available at www.democraticmedia.org.
This post originally appeared at: http://www.democraticmedia.org/cdd-and-ccfc-urge-federal-trade-commission-investigate-and-bring-action-against-agecheq-coppa-violat.