Ukrainian app developer, Wildec LLC, came under fire last week for allowing children to download and use its dating apps Meet 24, FastMeet and Meet4U. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) discovered that children as young as 12 could sign up without parental consent, which violates the 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection (COPPA) and FTC Act.
The apps have since been removed from both the Google Play Store and Apple App Store.
In a letter addressed to Wildec manager, Yevgen Yatsgeno, the FTC said that despite each of the dating app’s privacy policies stating to the contrary, there is no block or parental consent option for younger users.
This practise potentially exposes children below the age of 13 (and their personal data) to adults that can then approach them within the app. The FTC says several sexual predators are already facing charges, having been identified as users of Wildec apps.
“Facilitating other users, including adults, ability to identify and communicate with children – even those 13 or over – poses a significant risk to children’s health and safety. As you may be aware, several individuals in the United States have faced criminal charges for communicating or attempting to communicate with minors via Wildec’s apps,” the FTC said.
Under COPPA regulations, any app or service that collects significant personal data from children under the age of 13 requires parental consent. Wildec’s apps collected data that could include name, age, photos, email addresses, and, perhaps most alarmingly, their real-time location data.
As a result of the investigation, the FTC issued a parental guidance consumer alert, offering information on how to file a complaint for other apps that may breach the law, and how to issue consent.
The removal from the store isn’t a permanent ban – provided Wildec puts parental control measures in place and reviews its data collection practices, all three apps could be allowed back on their respective stores as soon as next month.