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Yelp Settles on Child Privacy Violation Allegations

In response to an FTC complaint, Yelp agreed to pay US$450,000 to the commission in order to settle charges that the company accepted registrations to its services from children under 13 years of age, through its apps. Yelp offers a service that connects people with local businesses, however recent accusations have shed light on privacy rules, such as the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

COPPA Violation

Prior to 2009, users were only able to register through the website, where Yelp had a screening process in place to ensure that users were over the age of 13. However, in 2009, Yelp introduced a registration feature in its app, enabling users to register for new accounts through the application, but failed to implement a working age-screen mechanism in the new in-app registration feature, according to the FTC complaint in the US District Court for the Northern District of California.

As a result, both the iOS and Android versions of the app accepted registrations and collected information from users who entered dates of birth that indicated they were underaged. This continued until April 2013.

In a blog post, Yelp said that it reached a settlement with the FTC regarding the bug in its mobile registration process that failed to disallow registrations from individuals under 13. Birth dates on Yelp are optional in the first place, so users are always free to register without one.

The FTC charged Yelp with violating the COPPA Rule by failing to provide notice to parents of its information practices, and to obtain verifiable parental consent prior to collecting, using or disclosing personal information from children.

Under the proposed settlement, Yelp is required to destroy the personal information of children under 13 who registered with the service within 30 days of the entry of the order. Yelp reported that only about 0.02 percent of users who actually completed the registration process during the time period provided an underage birth date and “we have good reason to believe that many of them were actually adults.”

The company had an average of about 138 million monthly unique visitors in the second quarter this year.

Summary

In mid-September, Yelp agreed to pay US$450,000 to the Federal Trade Commission in order to settle charges that the company accepted registrations to its services from children under 13 years of age, through its apps.

CIPP Exam Preparation

In preparation for the Certified Information Privacy Professional/United States (CIPP/US) exam, a privacy professional should be comfortable with topics related to this post, including:

  • FTC privacy enforcement actions (II.A.b.)
  • Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (II.A.d.)
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