San Francisco, MeetMe settle litigation

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said he 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.

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 USD200,000 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.