Senators Join Call for FTC Investigation of Google Play

A trio of powerful senators wants some app-related answers from Google ASAP.

Citing a complaint filed Wednesday (Dec. 19) with the FTC by the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown Law on behalf of privacy groups, three high-profile members of the Senate Commerce Committee have called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate that "new evidence" that Google is in violation of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

Among other things, they want the FTC to make sure Google is abiding by its commitment that the family section of its app store is, in fact, child-appropriate, something the privacy groups say is simply not the case. They say Google may be both violating COPPA and misrepresenting its services, both no-nos in FTC parlance.

That came in a letter Wednesday to the FTC chairman and other commissioners from Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). Markey has a rooting interest in compliance with COPPA as well since he was a principal author of the legislation.

Related: Privacy Groups File YouTube Complaint at FTC

They want the FTC to look into allegations of unfair and deceptive practices in the kid-targeted Google Play app store. Those include sharing user location information, exposing them to inappropriate content and ads and lacking "reasonable" security

“The FTC is statutorily obliged to enforce COPPA and protect American consumers from unfair and deceptive practices,” the senators wrote. “We’ve brought to your attention a number of pressing concerns that call into question Google’s compliance with existing
laws, and we encourage you to initiate an investigation into the aforementioned concerns as soon as possible.”

Related: FTC Cracks Down on Interconnected Toys

The letter follows previous letters to the FTC from the Hill questioning whether Google Play apps were collecting geolocation info without the requisite, COPPA-required, consent.

A Google spokesperson said of the privacy group complaint: “Parents want their children to be safe online and we work hard to protect them. Apps in our Designed for Families program have to comply with strict policies on content, privacy and advertising, and we take action on any policy violations that we find. We take these issues very seriously and continue to work hard to remove any content that is inappropriately aimed at children from our platform.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.