With more and more children becoming technologically savvy, parents are having to rely more heavily on laws such as the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”) to shield their children’s information. The FTC recently issued a warning letter to a Ukraine-based company, Wildec LLC (“Wildec”), for allowing children under the age of thirteen to access its dating apps—alleging a potential violation of COPPA and the FTC Act.

A little background on COPPA: the FTC’s COPPA Rule prohibits companies from collecting, using, or sharing personal information from a child, which is defined as an individual under the age of thirteen, without the parent’s verifiable consent. In addition, companies must also provide a notice on its website stating what information is collected as well as any disclosure practices for such information.

Wildec’s dating apps collected an array of information from its users, such as email addresses, photographs, dates of birth, as well as a user’s real-time location data. Although the app’s privacy policy prohibited users under the age of thirteen, the FTC staff found that users who indicated they were under thirteen were not prevented from accessing and using the apps, and staff were able to locate individuals that indicated they were as young as twelve. In addition, the FTC noted in its warning letter that “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.” Following the allegations, the apps were swiftly removed from Google Play and Apple’s App Store.

The FTC’s warning letter urged Wildec to ensure that all of their apps are compliant with the requirements of COPPA and/or the FTC Act. This would involve immediately removing children’s personal information from its service and collecting the necessary parental consent before allowing minors to access products.

In conjunction with the warning letter, the FTC issued a parental advisory for dating apps. The advisory warns parents of the dangers of dating apps, and notifies parents of their ability to prohibit app downloads without parental approval. The FTC noted that a new version of Wildec’s apps may appear in the future, but only for adults.

The warning letter highlights the hurdles a company must go through in order to legally collect personal information, which includes a name, address, email address, telephone number, from a child. However, failure to comply with the rules could result in steep legal action as a violation of COPPA is considered an unfair or deceptive practice under Section 57a of the FTC Act. It is unclear whether Wildec’s apps will reappear, but the FTC has stated it will be reviewing its apps again in the coming months. What is clear, however, is that it is imperative to implement clear procedures and guidelines when a company collects any information about an individual under the age of thirteen.