The US Federal Trade Commission has ordered WW International, formerly known as Weight Watchers, and its Kurbo Program to remove any data gathered through a weight loss app used by children as young as eight years old.
In a lawsuit filed in February in the District Court for the Northern District of California, the FTC said that the corporation acquired children’s sensitive health data without their parents’ or guardians’ authorization. In addition, the FTC noted WW International must erase any data connected to minors under the age of 13, remove algorithms created due to the data, and pay a $1.5 million penalty as part of a settlement announced Friday.
“Weight Watchers and Kurbo unlawfully stole personal and sensitive health information from children as young as eight,” FTC Chair Lina M. Khan said in a statement Friday. “To comply with our ruling, these corporations must remove their illegally obtained data, destroy any algorithms developed from it, and pay the penalty.”
Children, teenagers, and families might use the Kurbo by WW app to keep track of their food consumption, exercise, and weight. According to the FTC, the app also collects names, birth dates, and email addresses.
The FTC also claimed that the app’s signup procedure “encouraged younger users to fraudulently claim they were over the age of 13, despite wording stating that minors under the age of 13 must join up through a parent.”
“From 2014 to 2019, hundreds of users who claimed to be beyond the age of 13 on the app later modified their birthdates on their accounts to reflect they were actually under 13,” the FTC claimed. “However, until FTC employees contacted the firms, these users continued to have access to the software.”
The complaint also claims that the problems persisted when the child signup option was revised in 2020; that Kurbo “failed to provide a mechanism to ensure that those who choose the parent signup option are indeed parents;” that the disclosure about collecting data was “buried” in a string of hyperlinks; and that WW retained children’s data until a parent asked for it to be deleted.
Kurbo executive Michael Colosi told CMT in an emailed statement that the objective of the free app is to assist children in acquiring healthy eating habits and that it was meant to collect data anonymously to help children achieve this goal.
“Kurbo is a family-based, scientifically validated healthy living program adapted from Stanford University’s Pediatric Weight Control Program,” according to Colosi. “Kurbo values kid privacy and places a high focus on safeguarding its members’ personal information. Kurbo’s paid counseling service collects data that is only utilized with parental approval to assist youngsters in acquiring healthier eating habits.”
Kurbo, according to Colosi, did not target ads to children and did not sell or monetize data.