San Mateo Firm Permanently Barred from Using Its Online System, Admits Harvesting Data About 36M Children

The Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission jointly announced Thursday that a U.S.District Court judge in San Francisco has fined San Mateo-based Edmodo LLC $6 million and approved a permanent injunction preventing the company from restarting its national online educational platform.

The actions were part of a settlement of charges alleging violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, according to prosecutors.

The federal agencies reported a suspension of the payment of the penalty because of Edmodo’s inability to pay.

The Edmodo educational platform, sold to schools throughout the United States, claimed 100 million users until it was shut down by federal authorities last September. The online platform enabled teachers to interface with students, including children under 13 years old, to host virtual class spaces, conduct discussions, share materials, make assignments and provide quizzes and grades, among other things

Edmodo offered a free version of its platform and sold subscriptions to a paid version of the platform to various schools in the United States, which allowed teachers to hold classes and virtually interact with their students. The Justice Department alleged that the company had used both the free and paid versions of its platform to collect the personal information of 36 million student accounts "without providing notice to the children’s parents or obtaining parental authorization to collect such personal information."

“After more than a decade of ensuring Edmodo can stay a free tool for all, we have found that it is no longer viable for us to maintain the level of service you deserve and that we can take pride in ourselves,” the company wrote on its website last August. “As a result, we have made the difficult decision to shut down”

In a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the government alleged that until it shut down last year, Edmodo collected the personal information of children under 13, including their names, email addresses, phone numbers, device information, and IP addresses.

Edmodo allegedly collected such information without providing notice to the children’s parents or obtaining parental authorization to collect such personal information, as required by federal law, and used this personal information to enable third-parties to display targeted advertising to student users between 2018 and September 2022.

The complaint further asserts that Edmodo was retaining this personal information indefinitely. As of March 2020, Edmodo retained the personal information associated with approximately 36 million accounts of students under 13, of which only one million were actively using the platform.

This indefinite retention violated COPPA’s requirement that an operator not retain personal information of children for longer than “reasonably necessary to fulfill the purpose for which [the information] was collected.”

The stipulated order, entered by the federal court June 27, enjoins Edmodo from “collecting personal information from children in a manner that violates the COPPA Rule and prohibits Edmodo from retaining children’s personal information for longer than reasonably necessary to fulfill the purpose for which it was collected.”

The order also prevents Edmodo from collecting more personal information than reasonably necessary for a child to participate in any activity offered on its service.

It also requires Edmodo to destroy personal information improperly collected from children under age 13 and to comply with reporting, monitoring, and recordkeeping requirements. Edmodo is also subject to a civil penalty judgment of $6 million dollars, which was suspended “due to Edmodo’s inability to pay.”

“Children do not lose their privacy protections when they use the internet,” said U.S. Attorney Ismail J. Ramsey in a statement on June 28.. “Congress and the FTC have established rules to govern websites and apps collecting and storing the personal information of children. The settlement being announced today demonstrates the Department of Justice’s resolve to enforce those rules. We will continue to work with our partners at the FTC to safeguard children’s online privacy.”

“The Justice Department takes seriously its mission to protect the online privacy rights of children and their parents. This order spells out clearly to all online providers that it is unacceptable to collect children’s personal information without their parents’ consent,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton, head of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division. “The department is committed to protecting against unauthorized online collection and retention of information, especially from children.”

“This order makes clear that ed tech providers cannot outsource compliance responsibilities to schools, or force students to choose between their privacy and education,” said Director Samuel Levine of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Other ed tech providers should carefully examine their practices to ensure they’re not compromising students’ privacy.”


Three decades of journalism experience, as a writer and editor with Gannett, Knight-Ridder and Lee newspapers, as a business journal editor and publisher and as a weekly newspaper editor in Scotts Valley and Gilroy; with the Weeklys group since 2017. Recipient of several first-place writing and editing awards, California News Publishers Association.

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