The timing may have been unfortunate -- or fortunate, depending on your point of view -- but the Federal Trade Commission's warning to BabyBus was certainly effective.
Just before Christmas, the FTC cautioned the China-based development of children's apps that it appeared to be in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) Rule.
In the letter, the FTC notes that it appears BabyBus' child-directed apps appeared to collect precise geolocation information about users. The letter notes that the company does not get parents’ consent before collecting children’s personal information, which would appear to violate the COPPA Rule.
The apps, available on the Apple App Store, Amazon App Store and Google Play, have been downloaded millions of times but the sites all froze the downloads after receiving a copy of the FTC's letters.
The company also pledged to modify its apps to require parental permission, while noting that it was in compliance with Chinese laws.
"BabyBus is a company based in Mainland China, and statistical plug-ins are not against local laws where the company is registered, including the Law of the People's Republic of China on the Protection of Minors," the company said in a statement on its website.
"Yet our products are loved by nearly 60 million babies across the world.Therefore we learn that we must be in accordance with every regulation and law all over the world," the statement continued. "And that's why we right after receiving the letter from FTC we started updating the app to make sure compliance."
The apps are directed to children from ages 1-6, including apps that teach letters, numbers and shapes.
Parental consent required
The COPPA Rule requires companies collecting personal information from children under 13 to post clear privacy policies and to notify parents and get their consent before collecting or sharing any information from a child. The rule was revised in 2013 to adapt to the growth of mobile technology aimed at children.
The letter asks the company to evaluate its apps and determine whether they may be in violation, as well as informing the company that the commission will review the apps again in the next month to ensure they are in compliance with the rule.
BabyBus said it would comply.
"At the moment our products have been corrected and are ready to be released. We will also report to the FTC about the progress," the company said.