New Jersey State AG Enters into COPPA Consent Order

Capitalizing on its federal grant of authority, the New Jersey state Attorney General’s Office recently resolved claims it brought against Dokogeo, the California-based maker of the Dokobots app, that were based on the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and state Consumer Fraud Act.  According to the Consent Order filed on November 13, 2013, the Dokobots app is a geo-location scavenger hunt game that encourages users to visit new locations and gather “photos and notes from the people they meet.” One major attribute of the app is its geo-tracking of users.  A product review of the app describes it as blending “playtime, learning, exploration, and creativity in a curiously enticing way.” The State’s position was that the app was directed to children by virtue of its use of animated characters and “child-themed” storyline.

The Consent Order alleges that the app collects information, “including e-mail address, photographs, and geolocation information” deemed personal information under COPPA yet did not provide any neutral screen registration process to restrict the age of its users to those over the age of 13. Moreover, there was no terms of use agreement and its privacy policy does not disclose that the app is restricted to users over the age of 13. Pursuant to the Consent Order, Dokogeo removed all photographs of children and location information from its website and agreed to more clearly disclose information it collects.  As of November 24, 2013, the Dokobots site merely had a static home page – presumably given it is still in the process of implementing the terms of the Order.

The Consent Order also provides for a suspended fine of $25,000 which will only be enforced if Dokogeo fails to meet the terms of the Order.

This is the second such settlement reached by the New Jersey state AG’s office.  In July 2012, authorities announced a similar settlement against Los Angeles-based 24 x 7 Digital, LLC requiring the destruction of all children’s data that had previously been collected and transmitted to third parties.  That action was commenced by way of Complaint filed in June 2012.

It is not unusual for state AGs to commence COPPA actions against out-of-state companies.  In fact, a state AG action under COPPA was brought years ago by the Texas AG against a Brooklyn-based company for improperly collecting personal information such as names, ages, and home addresses from children.  What is interesting about the Kokogeo case, however, is that the underlying statute requires that the “the attorney general of a State has reason to believe that an interest of the residents of that State has been or is threatened or adversely affected. . . .” 15 USC § 6504 (emphasis added). Other than merely reciting the statute, no actual finding was made or referenced by the New Jersey AG’s office regarding the impact to New Jersey residents.  In fact, Kokogeo defended by arguing the app was intended for adults and there was no discussion by either side regarding New Jersey users.

App developers are well advised to appreciate two basic lessons from Kokogeo. If an app appears to target children, developers should comply with COPPA — especially given FTC guidelines involving the collection of geo-data and use of photographs.   And, if they do not comply, they should be prepared to defend against those state AGs who are not adverse to spending state dollars pursuing an enforcement action