SpongeBob App Developer Settles Children's Privacy Charges In California

The mobile app developer Tilting Point has agreed to pay $500,000 to settle charges that its SpongeBob:Krusty CookOff app wrongly collected data from minors.

“Tilting Point did not have sufficient safeguards in place to obtain parental consent before collecting, disclosing, selling, or sharing personal information of consumers under the age of 13,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta and Los Angeles City Attorney Hydee Feldstein Soto alleged in a complaint against the company.

The developer also allegedly failed to obtain explicit consent from 13- to 15-year-olds before collecting or sharing their data, according to the officials.

The federal Children's Online Privacy Protection Act prohibits app developers from collecting personal data -- including pseudonymous data used for targeted advertising -- from children under 13, without parental consent. A California state privacy law requires app developers to obtain opt-in consent before collecting personal data from teens under 16.



State officials alleged that the developer ran afoul of both the federal children's privacy law and California's privacy statute.

“The SpongeBob app collected and disclosed children’s personal information without the required parental or opt-in consent, including disclosure to third parties for advertising purposes,” the officials alleged.

Although the app had an age screen that asked users their ages, it defaulted to the birth year 1953, according to the complaint.

The result was that users under 13 “would need to scroll through more than 50 years to select an accurate birth year,” officials alleged.

Minors between the ages of 13 and 15 “likely were directed to the adult version of the game” due to the age screen, according to the complaint.

The officials added that Tilting Point collected or sold minors' information even when they identified as under 16 due to a coding error in the software development kits.

In addition to the $500,000 fine, Tilting Point agreed to comply with an injunction requiring the company to use “neutral age screens that encourage children to enter their age accurately,” among other terms.

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