Feds charge Yelp with collecting kids’ data

Online review site Yelp will pay a $450,000 fine over allegations that it illegally collected information about children.

According to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) charges announced on Wednesday, the business rating website collected names, email addresses and other data about thousands of children who said they were younger than 13 years old through its mobile application, in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. The law requires that adults give consent before their kids’ data is collection, among other provisions.

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“As people — especially children — move more of their lives onto mobile devices, it’s important that they have the same consumer protections when they’re using an app that they have when they’re on a website,” said FTC’s consumer protection head Jessica Rich said in a statement. “Companies should take steps as they build and test their apps to make sure that children’s information won’t be collected without a parent’s consent.”

In a blog post, Yelp attributed the violation to a “bug” with its mobile registration system.

Only about 0.02 percent of people who signed up for Yelp indicated that they were younger than 13, Vice President Vince Sollitto wote in the post, and “we have good reason to believe that many of them were actually adults.”

“Yelp doesn’t promote itself as a place for children, and we certainly don’t expect or encourage them to write reviews about their plumbers, dentists, or latest gastronomic discoveries,” he added. “We’re glad to have been able to cooperate with the FTC to get to a quick resolution and look forward to continuing our efforts to protect our users.”

The FTC also announced a separate $300,000 settlement with app developer TinyCo over similar behavior.

In a statement, the company apologized for the violation and said that every game it has made since 2012 has complied with the law.

“TinyCo fully supports [the child protection law] and the FTC’s effort to protect the privacy and data of children online,” it said. 

The action announced by the FTC on Wednesday is part of a slew of agency actions to protect children online an on mobile devices.

The company recent accused GoogleApple and other major tech firms with letting children run up charges on their app stores without their parents’ knowledge, leading to millions of dollars in required refunds. 

— Updated at 4:09 p.m.