NJ Reaches Settlement Resolving Privacy Allegations Against Mobile App Creator

John J. Hoffman

Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman

TRENTON – Dokogeo, Inc., a California-based company that makes mobile device applications, has entered into a settlement agreement with the state that resolves allegations it violated the federal Children’s Online Privacy Act (COPPA) and the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act by collecting personal information about children who used its animation-based “Dokobots” mobile app, Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman, the Division of Law and the Division of Consumer Affairs announced today.

Under terms of the settlement, Dokogeo must clearly and conspicuously disclose – in its apps and on the homepage of its Web sites – the types of personal information it collects, the manner in which it uses such information, and whether it discloses information to third parties. The company also is required to refrain from collecting the personal information of children age 13 and under until it makes the required disclosures, and otherwise complies with COPPA. Dokogeo already has removed all photographs and files containing children’s images from its Dokobots Web site, and has removed geolocation information of children since July 1, 2013.

Dokogeo also agrees to a suspended payout of $25,000. The payout will be due immediately if the company fails to comply with other restraints and conditions included in the settlement agreement. Dokogeo’s $25,000 payout obligation will be vacated after 10 years if it meets all settlement terms, and avoids violating consumer fraud and child online privacy laws.

“Technological advances continue to make it more convenient for consumers, including children, to spend time on-line using mobile device applications,” said Hoffman. “Our commitment is to ensure that children using these apps are protected, and that companies who market the apps do not violate consumer fraud and on-line privacy laws designed to protect us all.”

“This is an important settlement because it restrains Dokogeo from collecting personal information about children while requiring transparency from the company about how it handles whatever consumer information it does collect,” said Division of Law Director Christopher S. Porrino.

The settlement with Dokogeo is New Jersey’s second settlement with an app developer accused by the State of violating the COPPA. In July 2012 the State announced a settlement with 24x7digital LLC, a leading developer of children’s apps, which agreed to stop collecting and transmitting the personal data of children without notifying parents and obtaining parental consent. Los Angeles-based 24x7digital also agreed to ensure the destruction of all data that had previously been collected and transmitted to third parties.

“This is another important victory for the privacy of children and their parents, in an age of mobile devices that can easily capture and transmit a great deal of information about their users,” Eric T. Kanefsky, director of the Division of Consumer Affairs, said. “Under no circumstances is it acceptable to collect information about children without the informed consent of their parents.”

Based in San Francisco, Dokogeo creates, develops and distributes mobile device apps. The company offers its Dokobots app for download from app stores operated by Google, Inc. and Apple, Inc.

Dokobots is a geolocation scavenger hunt app that encourages users to visit new locations and gather “photos and notes from the people they meet.” Although its creator denies it, the state alleges that Dokobots is directed at children by virtue of its cartoon animation, as well as a video that presents the following storyline designed to draw kids in.

In order to “help” Dokobots who are adrift in space aboard a becalmed space ship, users are directed to download the Dokobots app onto their mobile devices. Once they’ve downloaded and opened the Dokobots app, users are assigned an inactive Dokobot. To activate their Dokobot, users are directed to create a profile, defining the name and function of their Dokobot. To complete the option account set-up, users are asked to create a personal user name and enter their e-mail addresses and passwords.

Once users activate their Dokobot they can activate the geolocation “scanner” to “pick up traveling robot friends and help them in their journeys as they explore our planet.” The scanner locates other user-created Dokobots within a user’s immediate location. Users can pick up Dokobots near them and drop off the Dokobots at other locations to which they travel. Users also can check the location of their own user-created Dokobot as others pick it up and drop it off.

In addition, Dokogeo sells various game add-ons and upgrades through its in-app store. For example, users can purchase add-ons and upgrades enabling them to “fly” their Dokobots on “Doko Air” to different locations, purchase additional battery packs, and purchase inactive bots.

Under the federal COPPA Rule, revised on July 1, operators must comply with certain requirements when collecting the personal information of children via a Web site or on-line service.

While Dokobots may be used by adults, the state’s position remains that the app is also clearly directed to children by virtue of its featuring of animated cartoons and child-themed storyline, and is therefore subject to COPPA.

The state alleges that the Dokobots app collects information that would be considered “personal information” under federal child on-line privacy protection laws, including e-mail addresses, photographs, and geolocation information.

The state also alleges that the Dokobots app privacy policy – located at www.dokobots.com/privacy — does not obtain verifiable parental consent prior to the collection of personal information from children. Dokogeo also does not offer a link to its privacy policy on its homepage, rendering it difficult for users to find information about the company’s data collection practices.

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