Mobile-analytics firm Kochava is preempting a purported impending federal crackdown on mobile companies violating the amended Child Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, by integrating age-check safeguards into their platform.
In order to adhere to federal law, Kochava integrated the services of AgeCheq into its mobile-measurement and attribution platform. AgeCheq produces COPPA compliance software, and Kochava will begin providing its customers with the same services for free.
Kochava’s jump on the compliance bandwagon is notable. It appears to be the first mobile player to take steps to stave off FTC investigators, who told VentureBeat in April they will begin issuing hefty fines to some of the approximately 500 players in the mobile ecosystem for illegally collecting data on children, a clear violation of COPPA.
“We’re the first. And by being the first, you’re able to learn the important lessons here. So we wanted to take a leadership role,” Kochava chief executive Charles Manning told VentureBeat.
Manning said many mobile players in the space think that because mobile devices lack cookies, they’re not being tracked, which isn’t true. Manning pointed out that Apple and Google have “do not track” features in their platforms that enable them to adhere to COPPA.
In Manning’s view, it’s going to take the FTC to make examples of a few companies that aren’t complying with COPPA in order to get the message out that the feds are serious about protecting the identities of children as they cycle through the ‘Net. If the feds don’t, he said, that could send a message that the government doesn’t care.
“If you have regulations that aren’t being followed, then its going to take a crackdown for people to take it seriously. For publisher’s selling targeted ads, oftentimes there’s a propensity to be loose on how you manage your data,” Manning said.
July 1 marks the first anniversary to the COPPA amendment. The FTC told VentureBeat that after the grace time expires—today—they will begin issuing fines, which can amount to $16,000 for each app download or each login where COPPA is being violated.
AgeCheq’s “Pro” service provides useful analytics on onboarding, player use, and disclosure page views as well as transition controls, according to Kochava.
In their decision to go with AgeCheq, Kochava referenced a 2012 FTC study on mobile apps for kids. The study showed that most mobile app developers failed to meet the original COPPA compliance standards and found many apps continue to share personal information, such as device ID, geolocation, and phone numbers, with third-parties without disclosure to parents.
The FTC made it clear to VentureBeat it has little patience on the issue of behavioral ads (known as BAs) that are targeted at children and compiled by advertisers using data culled from kids’ online behavior.
The FTC tweaked COPPA last year, giving online advertisers, gaming outfits, and others a grace period to adapt to the rapidly changing online mobile advertising space. The revision to COPPA broadened the act, extending the definition of children’s personal information to include “persistent identifiers such as cookies that track a child’s activity online, as well as geolocation information, photos, videos, and audio recordings.”
The COPPA revision, or amendment, in the words of the FTC:
COPPA mandates that website operators or online providers directed at kids 13 and under obtain verifiable consent from the parents or guardians before disseminating the information. The law says that without the verification, companies are on the hook for any information obtained from children [to] be distributed or sold for marketing or other purposes. The law was formed in the early days of the Internet, and much has changed since then.
Jules Polonetsky, the executive director of the Future of Privacy Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, said many in the mobile space are in denial. And for those that are, stiff fines could likely be the wakeup call.
“The smaller mobile players have their heads in the sand, and mobile app developers are the most vulnerable. What [the FTC] have told us is that mobile apps and kids are a major focus,” Polentsky said.
For Manning, playing it safe, and offering his over 500 clients COPPA compliance protection, is the best way to go.
“It’s a really interesting topic,” Manning said. “And the penalties are so significant that they can have serious harm on businesses.”
“We fundamentally believe its going to take a few people who are penalized to show others the consequences of what can happen.”
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