When it comes to violating children’s rights online, the Federal Trade Commission picked not a mobile gaming company to hit, as rumored, but Yelp.
And today, Yelp admitted to having a “bug” problem.
Virtual customer review stalwart Yelp, based in San Francisco, said it paid $450,000 to the FTC for collecting names and other identifiers of children without their consent, a clear violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.
This is an interesting case. Earlier this year, the FTC announced with great fanfare that it would aggressively begin going after operators in the mobile space that were in violation of COPPA, which the government amended last year to give mobile gamers and app developers time to get their houses in order.
The FTC made no public announcement about the hit on Yelp; instead, Yelp announced the fine on its website in a little noticed blog post.
Yelp chalked up its violation to a “bug” that wreaked havoc in its mobile registration process.
Yelp’s blog post, in part, read:
“Yelp recently reached a settlement agreement with the Federal Trade Commission regarding a bug in our mobile registration process that allowed certain users to register with any birth date when it was supposed to disallow registrations from individuals under 13 (birthdates on Yelp are optional in the first place, so users are always free to register without one).”
The good news is that only about 0.02% of users who actually completed Yelp’s registration process during this time period provided an underage birth date, and we have good reason to believe that many of them were actually adults. Regardless, we don’t want any ambiguity when it comes to our users. When this problem was brought to our attention, we fixed it immediately and closed the affected users’ accounts.”
An FTC spokesperson in Washington DC could not be reached for comment.
The crux of the lawsuit, according to Yelp, was the FTC’s accusation that the company, launched in 2004, was collecting email addresses from kids, some of them aged 9 and under, without the consent of their parents from 2009 until 2013.
To be more specific, kids who signed up for Yelp accounts did not have to go through an adequate process in order to set up an account. The FTC’s move against Yelp mirrors, to a degree, the fines it levied against Apple, Google, and Amazon this year. Those three heavyweights were accused of billing minors for unauthorized purchases to their app stores.