Mar 8, 2022 - Economy

FTC: Weight Watchers app illegally collected data from kids

Kurbo Founder and CEO Joanna Strober

Kurbo founder and CEO Joanna Strober in 2014. Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for New York Times

WW, the company formerly known as Weight Watchers, used a weight loss app targeted toward minors to illegally collect personal information from children under 13, violating children's privacy laws, the Federal Trade Commission said Friday.

Why it matters: The FTC stated that WW and the app, Kurbo, violated the FTC’s Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act Rule (COPPA Rule), which requires apps or online services that collect data from kids to get parental permission.

The big picture: The FTC stated in its complaint that the app was "specifically designed and marketed for use by children as young as 8 years old."

  • Between 2014 and 2019, hundreds of users provided false birthdays to appear older than 13 so they could sign up without parental permission. These children then revised their birthdays once they'd made their accounts but were able to continue accessing the app, according to the complaint.
  • The complaint also notes that WW violated the COPPA Rule by retaining information from children indefinitely and only deleting it if specifically requested by a parent, "even if the user’s account had been dormant for multiple years."

State of play: As part of a settlement, WW and Kurbo will be required to pay a $1.5 million penalty, delete the data it collected from children under 13 and destroy any algorithms it built using this data, per the press release.

What they're saying: “Weight Watchers and Kurbo marketed weight management services for use by children as young as eight, and then illegally harvested their personal and sensitive health information,” FTC Chair Lina Khan said in the press release.

  • “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," she added.
  • “The department is committed to enforcing the protections against unauthorized collection of information from consumers, particularly children," principal deputy assistant attorney general Brian Boynton, said in the press release.
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