February 25, 2020

February 24, 2020

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FTC Settlement with Video Social Networking App Largest Civil Penalty in a Children’s Privacy Case

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced a settlement with Musical.ly, a Cayman Islands corporation with its principal place of business in Shanghai, China, resolving allegations that the defendants violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) Rule.

Musical.ly operates a video social networking app with 200 million users worldwide and 65 million in the United States. The app provides a platform for users to create short videos of themselves or others lip-syncing to music and share those videos with other users. The app also provides a platform for users to connect and interact with other users, and until October 2016 had a feature that allowed a user to tap on the “my city” tab and receive a list of other users within a 50-mile radius.

According to the complaint the defendants (1) were aware that a significant percentage of users were younger than 13 years of age and (2) had received thousands of complaints from parents that their children under 13 had created Muscial.ly accounts.

The FTC’s COPPA Rule prohibits the unauthorized or unnecessary collection of children’s personal information online by internet website operators and online services, and requires that verifiable parental consent be obtained prior to the collecting, using, and/or disclosing personal information of children under the age of 13.

In addition to requiring the payment of the largest civil penalty ever imposed for a COPPA case ($5.7 million), the consent decree prohibits the defendants from violating the COPPA Rule and requires that they delete and destroy all of the personal information of children in their possession, custody, or control unless verifiable parental consent has been obtained.

FTC Commissioners Chopra and Slaughter issued a joint statement noting their belief that the FTC should prioritize uncovering the role of corporate officers and directors and hold accountable everyone who broke the law.

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About this Author

Katherine Armstrong, Drinker Biddle Law Firm, Washington DC, Data Privacy Attorney

Katherine E. Armstrong is counsel in the firm’s Government & Regulatory Affairs Practice Group where she focuses her practice on data privacy issues, including law enforcement investigations, and research and analysis of big data information practices including data broker issues.

Katherine has more than 30 years of consumer protection experience at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), where she served in a variety of roles, including most recently as a Senior Attorney in the Division of Privacy and Identity Protection.  In the Division of...