Weight Watchers diet app collected data on kids as young as 8, FTC says


WW International — previously recognized as Weight Watchers — and a subsidiary used a diet app to illegally acquire personal data on kids as young as eight, the Federal Trade Commission said Friday.

In a complaint filed by the Department of Justice on behalf of the FTC, regulators allege that the app collected kids’s names, electronic mail addresses and beginning dates with out their dad and mom’ consent. That’s a violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, which requires apps, web sites and on-line providers that concentrate on kids to acquire a dad or mum’s permission earlier than gathering, utilizing or disclosing personal info from kids underneath 13.

Until late 2019, customers of the Weight Watchers app may join the service by indicating on-line that they had been a dad or mum signing up their youngster or somebody over the age of 13, the FTC mentioned. A settlement order requires WW and its Kurbo unit to pay a $1.5 million penalty and delete delicate well being info.

“Our order against these companies requires them to delete their ill-gotten data, destroy any algorithms derived from it and pay a penalty for their lawbreaking,” FTC Chair Lina Khan mentioned in an announcement.

Weight Watchers — the diet company round for the reason that Sixties — acquired know-how startup Kurbo Health in 2018. They launched a well being and wellness app, Kurbo by WW, in 2020 for kids between 8 and 17. The launch proved controversial, with consuming dysfunction researchers, therapists and pediatricians amongst these involved it will additional stigmatize heavier kids. 

The majority of consuming dysfunction shoppers that I work with have had a historical past of weight-reduction plan. For most, it began with Weight Watchers. Suggesting that @KurboHealth will promote well being and never illness is lacking EVERY MARK. #wakeupweightwatchers

— Anna Sweeney MS, RD, LDN, CEDRD-S (@DietitianAnna) August 15, 2019

The company allegedly inspired youthful customers to falsely declare they had been older than 13 to bypass a requirement that oldsters must consent earlier than data is compiled on their preteens. 

“From 2014 to 2019, hundreds of users who signed up for the app claiming to be over the age of 13 later changed their birthdates on their profiles to indicate they were really under 13,” in keeping with the federal government’s criticism. These customers continued to have entry to the app till FTC workers contacted the businesses, the company said.

The signup possibility for kids was revised in 2020 however issues with kids with the ability to bypass the age restriction continued, the FTC added. 

Kurbo disputed breaking the foundations defending kids’s on-line privateness, saying it took immediate motion to repair potential compliance gaps as soon as notified by the FTC. 

“At no time did Kurbo ever target children with advertising, sell data to third parties or otherwise monetize its users in any way, and no parents or children ever complained that Kurbo used their personal data in an inappropriate manner,” Michael Colosi, normal counsel at Kurbo, mentioned in an electronic mail to CBS MoneyWatch. 

The settlement, accredited by a federal decide in California on Thursday, will not be an admission of wrongdoing however a mirrored image of “Kurbo’s desire to focus on its business and its mission of continuing to help families and children in a safe and protected environment,” Colosi added.

The monetary penalty for WW and Kurbo pales compared to a $170 million positive levied in opposition to Google in 2019 after the FTC alleged that YouTube violated COPPA in delivering focused advertisements to kids. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics in 2016 launched a report advising in opposition to speaking about weight or the necessity to lose further kilos to kids and adolescents. Research has discovered that such conversations can enhance the probabilities of growing an consuming dysfunction or gaining weight later on, the medical group famous.