FTC chides BabyBus for tracking babies

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The Federal Trade Commission today has made public its contention that BabyBus, a China-based maker of mobile software designed for the youngest of the young, appears to be violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by collecting personal information without permission.

From an FTC press release:

In the letter (to BabyBus), the FTC notes that it appears the child-directed applications marketed by the company, BabyBus, appear 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 letter notes that the applications, available on the Apple App Store, Amazon App Store and Google Play, have been downloaded millions of times. The apps are clearly directed to children from ages one to six, including apps that teach letters, numbers and shapes. The letter was also sent to the three application marketplaces.

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.

If it’s the alleged collection of “precise geolocation information” that has the FTC concerned, well, there would appear to be little need to use the word alleged. From the privacy statement on the BabyBus website:

We understand the importance of our users’ personal information, namely that of children under 13 years of age. We will not require users to enter their detailed personal information. When using our apps, we might read information (such as IP address, GPS location, network connection, device status, Wi-Fi connection and etc.) for the use of multi-language product development. The collection of information will be used for the development and functional improvements of our products to ensure user experience for both Android and iOS operating systems. Due to the uniqueness of mobile products, we ask to read Wi-Fi connectivity to prevent users from downloading updates using cellular data.

But, insists BabyBus, there is no reason for you or the FTC to fret.

We hereby declare that any information we received will be used solely for the purpose of product development and no information will be disclosed to any third person party unless we have received your consent or under government order.

The FTC letter advises BabyBus that it has a month to clean up its act.

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