Weight Watchers App Gathered Data From Children, F.T.C. Says

In a statement, Curbo’s general counsel, Michael Colossi, said the information the company has collected was used to help users improve their eating habits. The company did not violate the COPPA, adding that the settlement was not a confession of wrongdoing.

“The limited information gained in the free app experience was designed to be collected in an anonymous environment and was used solely to help users develop better eating habits,” he said. “Carbo has never targeted children with ads, sold data to third parties, or otherwise monetized its users in any way.”

Ben Winters, a lawyer for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said the FTC appears to be enforcing a version of the legal principle known as the “fruit of the poisonous tree,” which is considered unacceptable if evidence is obtained illegally. He said the commission had earlier applied the principle when it fined Facebook about $ 5 billion for allowing British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica to obtain personal information from its users.

Mr. Winters said referring to COPPA. “It’s interesting for the FTC to use the poison-tree remedy in a more run-of-the-mill case, and that’s something we really want to see.”

The American Association of Pediatrics released a report in 2016 that discouraged parents and families from discussing weight and weight loss with their children, warning that such conversations could increase the likelihood of developing eating disorders in children. The report encouraged families to focus on healthy eating and active lifestyles.

Kurbo’s website features testimonials from 10-year-old users who say they used the site’s “traffic light food system” to lose weight. Healthy foods such as skim milk, fruits and vegetables are given a “green light”, while “red light” foods – such as cookies and cakes, but also whole milk and peanut butter – are discouraged. Kids who complete their weekly diet and exercise goals are rewarded in the Kurbo app.

“Food is food, and it’s scary to think about giving children messages that suggest otherwise,” said Anna Sweeney, a dietitian who specializes in eating disorders. “Children become adults who then have the misfortune of healing their relationship with damaged food when they were very young.”

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