On Monday, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that Apple and Google removed three dating apps from their stores for allowing kids as young as 12 to access them.
The apps in question — Meet24, FastMeet, and Meet4U — are operated by Wildec, a Ukraine-based company. The apps collected users’ birthdates, email addresses, photographs, and real-time location data, the FTC reported.
The FTC did send each of the apps a warning letter, stating that allowing adult users to communicate with children “poses a serious health and safety risk.” In addition, the letter noted that “several individuals have reportedly faced criminal charges for allegedly contacting or attempting to contact minors using Wildec’s apps.”
Most alarmingly, the FTC’s letter noted that Wildec seemed to be aware that children under the age of 13 were using their dating apps.
The letter urged Wildec to immediately remove personal information from children on the three apps, to seek parental consent before allowing minors to access them, and to make sure all versions of the apps are in compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
Allowing kids on dating apps where adults can contact them is already bad enough. However, these apps also play into an alarming trend of companies violating COPPA, which essentially protects the personal data of children under the age of 13.
Big tech companies have faced criticism for collecting data on young children and the way they market to them. According to CNBC, a coalition of consumer groups — including the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood (CCFC) — filed a number of complaints with the FTC last year regarding those issues.
In March, Sens. Ed Markey (D-WA) and Josh Hawley (R-MO) proposed a bill to strengthen COPPA. It would provide parents with an “eraser button” to remove kids’ data from a service and extend protection to kids ages 15 and under.
Wildec’s apps are obviously on the more extreme end of COPPA violations because there’s no good reason for a minor to be on a dating app and contacted by adults.
The apps will be allowed back onto the stores if Wildec makes the appropriate changes to comply with COPPA.