In a statement, Kurbo’s general counsel, Michael Colosi, said the information the company collected was only used to help users improve their eating habits. The company did not violate COPPA, he said, adding that the settlement was not an admission of wrongdoing.
“The limited information received in the free app experience is designed to be collected in an anonymous environment and used solely to help users develop better eating habits,” he said. “Kurbo has never targeted children with ads, sold data to third parties, or otherwise monetized its users.”
Ben Winters, a general counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said the FTC appeared to be applying a version of a legal doctrine known as “the fruit of the poisonous tree,” which deems evidence inadmissible if it is illegal. obtained. He said the commission had previously applied the doctrine when it fined Facebook about $5 billion for allowing Cambridge Analytica, a British consultancy, to collect personal information from its users.
“It’s a privacy matter that was enforced using the only real privacy law we have — and it’s just for children,” said Mr. Winters, referring to COPPA. “It’s interesting for the FTC to use the poison tree cure in a more mundane case, and that’s something we really want to see.”
The American Association of Pediatrics released a report in 2016 discouraging parents and families from talking to their children about weight and weight loss, and warned that such conversations could increase the chances of children developing an eating disorder. The report encouraged families to emphasize healthy eating habits and an active lifestyle instead.
Kurbo’s website features testimonials from users as young as 10 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 the ‘green light’, while ‘red light’ foods – such as cookies and cakes, as well as whole milk and peanut butter – are discouraged. Kids who meet their weekly diet and exercise goals are rewarded in the Kurbo app.
“Food is food, and it’s scary to feed kids groceries that suggest otherwise,” says Anna Sweeney, a dietitian who specializes in eating disorders. “Children grow up to be adults who then have the misfortune of having to heal their relationship with food that was damaged when they were very, very young.”