On November 13, 2013, California-based mobile app developer, Dokogeo, Inc., entered into a consent order with the New Jersey Attorney General to settle charges of violations of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act ("COPPA") and New Jersey's Consumer Fraud Act. The settlement, which was announced on November 22, is the second one entered into between an app developer and the NJ AG over alleged COPPA violations. For our analysis on the previous settlement, please visit here.
According to the consent order, Dokogeo offers a geolocation scavenger hunt app for users to visit new locations and gather photos and notes from people they meet. Users have the option to create a profile, which includes an email address. The NJ AG alleged that the Dokogeo app was directed to children, although the only allegation made was that there was animation on the site. While the presence of animated characters on a site is a factor that the FTC Rule now includes for determining whether a website or online service is “directed to children” under 13 years of age, the FTC has stated that the presence of animated characters alone is not definitive evidence that the site is directed to children. So, it is somewhat unclear exactly how much analysis was done to determine whether COPPA should apply at all. The AG then alleged that Dokogeo violated COPPA because it collected "personal information" from children (including email address, photos, and geolocation), and that it did not obtain verifiable parental consent in connection with such collection. As part of the settlement, Dokogeo agreed to enhance its privacy disclosures -- both on its apps and on its website -- and to stop collecting personal information about users under 13 years old -- including geolocation data. The company was also fined $25,000, which will be vacated after ten years if the company remains in compliance with the consent order, COPPA, and the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act.
State AGs continue to focus their efforts on consumer privacy, with states like New Jersey and California leading the charge. We will continue to monitor developments on the state level, in particular to see whether other states will follow suit.