In a statement, Kurbo’s general counsel, Michael Colosi, said the information the company collects is only used to help users improve their eating habits. He said the company was not in violation of COPPA and added that the settlement was not an admission of wrongdoing.
“The limited information received during the free app experience is designed to be collected in an anonymous environment and is used solely for the purpose of helping users develop better eating habits,” he said. “Kurbo has never targeted children with advertising, sold data to third parties, or monetized its users in any way.”
Ben Winters, general counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said the FTC appears to be adopting a version of the legal doctrine known as the “fruit of the poison tree,” where evidence is considered to be evidence. unacceptable if it was obtained illegally. He said the committee had previously applied this doctrine when it fined Facebook about $5 billion for allowing Cambridge Analytica, a British consulting firm, to collect personal information from its users.
“It’s a privacy case enforced using the only real privacy laws we have – and it’s just for kids,” Mr. Winters said, referring to COPPA. “It’s exciting for the FTC to use poison ivy in a larger case, and that’s something we’d really like to see.”
The American Pediatric Association released a report in 2016 discouraging parents and families from discussing weight and weight loss with their children, warning that such conversations can children are more likely to have an eating disorder. The report encourages families to instead emphasize healthy eating habits and an active lifestyle.
Kurbo’s website features testimonials from users 10+ years younger who say they’ve used the site’s “traffic snack system” to lose weight. Healthy foods like skim milk, fruits and vegetables get the “green light,” while “red light” foods – such as cookies and cakes, as well as whole milk and peanut butter – not recommended. Children who meet weekly diet and exercise goals will be rewarded in the Kurbo app.
“Food is food, and it’s scary to think about providing kids with other suggestive messages,” says Anna Sweeney, a registered dietitian who specializes in eating disorders. “Children grow up to be adults who then have the misfortune of having to mend their relationships with food that was damaged when they were very young.”