San Francisco, MeetMe settle litigation with industry-leading protections for minors

City Attorney Herrera credits popular social network for mobile platforms with 'leadership to resolve this litigation that's worthy of its status as a market leader'

Aug 19, 2015, 13:51 ET from City Attorney of San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO, Aug. 19, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera has settled his civil suit against MeetMe, Inc. (NASDAQ: MEET) with an agreement by the mobile-focused social network to implement industry-leading safeguards for users under the age of 18.  Herrera filed a dismissal of the case in San Francisco Superior Court this morning shortly before releasing the settlement agreement with the New Hope, Pa.-based MeetMe, which he praised for "thoughtfully and responsibly" addressing the practices his consumer protection action challenged.

Herrera's Feb. 3, 2014 complaint alleged that innovations MeetMe employed to enable its users to meet new people through their mobile devices violated California law for users between the ages of 13 and 17.  Although MeetMe prohibits children under the age of 13 from using its service, Herrera contended that MeetMe improperly relied on the legally-invalid consent of minor teens to publish their photographs and personal information in tandem with their real-time locations.  The practices posed risks to minors' safety and impinged on their privacy rights in violation of California law, according to the complaint, and they were inadequately explained to users by MeetMe's privacy policy and terms of service. 

But Herrera hailed as "groundbreaking" revisions to which MeetMe agreed in the settlement announced today, which will dramatically enhance privacy and safety protections for minors in the burgeoning realm of location-based networking on mobile devices.

"MeetMe showed leadership to resolve this litigation that's worthy of its status as a market leader," Herrera said.  "Company officials thoughtfully and responsibly considered the violations we alleged under California law, and ultimately aspired to remedies even beyond those we sought.  Our settlement includes groundbreaking steps to protect the safety and privacy of minor teenagers, just as we'd hoped.  But MeetMe deserves credit for also seeing the opportunity to expand and better explain privacy protections for the benefit of all of its users, of all ages.  It's an approach that will serve consumers well, and hopefully also set an industry standard for all social networks at a time when they are increasingly accessed through mobile devices."

Under terms of the settlement agreement, MeetMe will not identify locations of minor teens more specifically than their city and state, and will not display their proximity to others users more narrowly than "within one mile."  And even this limited location sharing for minor teens will now default to "off."  The settlement agreement contemplates that the product changes will be implemented within 90 days.

MeetMe agreed to significantly streamline and simplify its privacy policy and terms of service, addressing an issue Herrera raised in his complaint that a standardized readability analysis found key privacy content inappropriate for non-college graduates.  MeetMe's revised policy is now written at a ninth grade reading level, according to the same analysis, which is appropriate for comprehension by minors between the ages of 13 and 17.  The social network also simplified users' access to privacy settings by placing them on a single page or screen, and MeetMe users of all ages will additionally benefit from regular "privacy check-up" notices detailed in the agreement, which will routinely apprise users of their privacy settings and explain how to modify them. 

Financial terms of agreement include a one-time payment by MeetMe to the City Attorney's Office of $200,000 to resolve all claims for damages, attorneys' fees or other costs.  Because the case alleged violations of California's Unfair Competition Law, Herrera's litigation against MeetMe was funded almost exclusively by prior civil recoveries won by his office, rather than taxpayer dollars.  State voters amended that law in 2004 to require that civil penalties recovered by public prosecutors be used exclusively to enforce consumer protection laws.

The case is: People of the State of California ex rel. Dennis Herrera v. MeetMe, Inc. et al. (San Francisco Superior Court Case No. 537126, filed Feb. 3, 2014).  Full documentation on the settlement agreement is available on the San Francisco City Attorney's Office's website at the following URL: http://www.sfcityattorney.org/.

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SOURCE City Attorney of San Francisco



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