There is a rising threat to kids who habituate the Internet: the likelihood that a popular mobile app or social-networking service will invade their privacy.
The Federal Trade Commission last month announced a $50,000 settlement with app maker W3 Innovations for collecting and dispersing information of kids under 13 in violation of the Children's Online Privacy and Protection Act, or COPPA.
Earlier this year the FTC wrested a record $3 million settlement from online game developer Playdom, now a division of Disney, for similar COPPA violations.
Child-safety advocates say identity thieves and pedophiles have begun taking advantage of youngsters' increasing infatuation with mobile devices and Web apps.
"Children are using these services more and more, opening themselves up to more information disclosures," says Andrew Serwin, chairman of the privacy practice at law firm Foley & Lardner. "And there's more and more mobile services directed to children, as well."
W3 Innovations published Emily's Girl World, Emily's Dress Up and Emily's Runway High Fashion, online services which encouraged kids to create virtual models and outfits and e-mail a fictitious character named Emily with comments and blog posts. Apple iPhone and iPad users downloaded Emily apps more than 50,000 times.
"We want to make it crystal clear, to app developers and to others in this new mobile space, that we believe the protection under COPPA is not platform specific," says David Vladeck, director of the FTC's consumer protection bureau. "If you can't do it online, you can't do it in an app."
FTC staff is hammering out revisions to COPPA rules likely to include different guidelines for verifying parental permission for kids to use certain apps, and specific rules to protect children using Internet-connected mobile devices, Serwin says.
Meanwhile, more children than ever are using mobile devices and spending longer hours socializing online and and using cool Web apps designed to gather data in support of selling advertising.
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