FTC Takes Action Against WW for Collecting Children’s Health Data

A weight watching app used by children as young as 8 collected health data without permission, the FTC alleged in a complaint.


WW

The US Federal Trade Commission is requiring WW International — the company previously known as Weight Watchers — and its Kurbo App to permanently delete data it collected through a weight loss app used by kids as young as eight. 

Children’s personal health data was collected without the permission of parents or guardians, the FTC said in a complaint filed against the company in February in the District Court in the Northern District of California. In a settlement announced Friday, the FTC said WW International is required to delete any data related to children under the age of 13, as well as to destroy algorithms it formed as a result of the data and pay a $1.5 million penalty.

“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 M. Khan said in a statement Friday. “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.”

The Kurbo by WW app allowed children, teens and families to track food intake, activity and weight. The FTC said the app also collected names, birth dates and email addresses.

In addition, the FTC alleged that the app signup process “encouraged younger users to falsely claim they were over the age of 13, despite text indicating that children under 13 must sign up through a parent.”

“From 2014 to 2019, hundreds of users who signed up for the app claiming to be over the age of 13 later changed their birthdates on their profiles to indicate they were really under 13,” the FTC alleged. “These users nonetheless continued to have access to the app until FTC staff contacted the companies.”

The complaint also alleges that when the signup option for children was revised in 2020, the problems remained; that Kurbo “failed to provide a mechanism to ensure that those who choose the parent signup option were indeed parents;” that the disclosure about collecting data was “buried” in a string of hyperlinks; and that WW retained children’s data until asked to delete it by a parent.

Michael Colosi, Kurbo executive, told CNET in an emailed statement that the purpose of Kurbo is to help children learn healthier eating habits, and that the free app was designed to collect data anonymously to help children with this goal. 

“Kurbo is a scientifically-proven, family-based healthy lifestyle program derived from Stanford University’s Pediatric Weight Control Program,” Colosi added. “Kurbo takes child privacy very seriously and its highest priority is protecting its members and their personal data. Data collected in Kurbo’s paid counseling program is used in strict compliance with parental consent solely to help children learn better eating habits.”

Kurbo did not use targeted advertising to attract children, or sell or monetize data, Colosi added.

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