A web-based talent search company has agreed to pay $235,000 in civil penalties to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it failed to obtain parental consent before collecting personal information from children, and that it misled consumers about the benefits of its premium paid services.
The FTC’s complaint against Nevada-based Prime Sites, Inc. alleges that the company – doing business as Explore Talent – violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by collecting and disclosing children’s personal information without obtaining parental consent and by failing to detail to parents and the public its collection, use, and disclosure practices. The complaint also alleges that the company violated the FTC Act by baselessly representing to prospective purchasers of its premium services that casting directors either had interest in them or had specifically chosen them for upcoming roles.
“Explore Talent collected the personal information of more than 100,000 children, but failed to adhere to the safeguards required by law,” said Acting FTC Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen. “Today’s settlement provides strong relief for consumers and will help ensure children are protected going forward.”
Explore Talent has marketed itself to aspiring actors, models, and other artists as a way to search for information about upcoming auditions, casting calls, and other professional opportunities. According to the complaint, the site required users, including children under age 13, to submit personal information such as their names, email addresses, telephone numbers and mailing address in order to create a free account or a premium, paid account. The company included some of this information in user profiles that were publicly available and searchable on the company’s website.
COPPA requires that companies collecting information online about children under 13 follow a number of steps to ensure that the children’s information is protected, including clearly disclosing directly to parents how the information is used and seeking verifiable parental consent before collecting any information from a child.
Between 2014 and 2016, ExploreTalent.com had more than 100,000 members who registered as under age 13, according to the FTC complaint.
The FTC also alleges that Explore Talent misrepresented the benefits of upgrading to a “pro membership,” which cost $39.95 a month. While the site offered accounts for free, only its pro members could apply for potential job opportunities available on the site.
To sell users on signing up for a pro membership, the company’s telemarketers falsely claimed that casting directors for particular movies were interested in casting the users in an upcoming role, according to the complaint. One user reported that a telemarketer said the casting director for a sequel of the movie “Jack Reacher” wanted the user to audition for a paid speaking role in the film – but only if the user signed up for a pro membership first. However, when the user contacted the casting director, the user was told that the film was not working with Explore Talent, and in fact, all the speaking roles in the movie had already been cast.
As part of its settlement, the defendant has agreed to a $500,000 civil penalty, which will be suspended upon payment of $235,000. In addition, the company is required to comply with COPPA requirements in the future and to delete the information it previously collected from children.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint and stipulated final order was 2-0. The Department of Justice, on behalf of the FTC, filed the complaint and stipulated final order in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada.
NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. Stipulated orders have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.
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