CARU Refers Musical.ly to FTC After App Operator Declines to Comply with CARU’s Privacy Recommendations

New York, NY –  April 24, 2018 – The Children’s Advertising Review Unit has referred The Musical.ly Inc., operator of the Musical.ly mobile application, to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), after the company said it would not comply with CARU’s recommendations regarding children’s privacy.

CARU is an investigative unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation. CARU monitors websites and mobile services for compliance with CARU’s Self-Regulatory Program for Children’s Advertising – including CARU’s privacy guidelines – and for compliance with the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

Musical.ly is a social network that allows its users to create, share and view short user-generated videos and is described in the Apple App store as “Super easy for everyone to make awesome videos and share with friends or to the world.”

To use the app, one must create an account and register. Registration requires an email address, username and password. Once registered, users can create and publicly post videos, create a detailed personal profile, publicly comment on videos, follow other members and send direct private messages within the app.

The app features videos created by celebrities, including Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, Demi Lovato, Maroon 5, Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, Grace VanderWaal, Hey Violet and JoJo Siwa, all of whom have a large following of children under 13.

CARU noted upon its initial review that many of the videos featured teens and observed account profiles of children who appeared to be younger than 13. CARU determined that Musical.ly did not ask for age or date of birth as part of its registration process. During the course of CARU’s inquiry, Musical.ly implemented an age-screening mechanism that currently prohibits children under 13 from registering for and using the app.

Musical.ly, in its response, argued that the app was not directed to children, noting that the app does not feature animated characters or child-oriented language or activities. Musical.ly further argued that the app is targeted to a general audience and features professional internet vloggers from general audience online services. Finally, Musical.ly asserted that social media and video sharing apps and websites are accepted as having a general audience.

CARU considered, but was not persuaded, by Musical.ly’s arguments. CARU determined that although the operator may have originally intended to direct its app to a general audience, the Musical.ly is primarily used by teens.  CARU further determined that while the app doesn’t target children as its primary audience, several factors and characteristics indicate that children are a target under the criteria set forth under COPPA.

As a mixed audience service, CARU noted, Musical.ly is not permitted to totally block children under 13 from engaging with its app. Rather, it may age-screen, but must then either obtain parental consent or direct child visitors to content that does not involve the collection, use or disclosure of personal information.

Musical.ly, in its advertiser’s statement, said the company appreciated the opportunity to work with CARU, but believes CARU did not properly apply the COPPA rule to Musical.ly’s app. The company said it “respectfully declines to adopt CARU’s recommendations.”

Given the advertiser’s decision, CARU has referred the matter to the FTC for further review.

 

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