Even those of us who have come to terms with the fact that companies and advertisers track everything we do online aren’t ready to compromise their children’s privacy. In fact, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is a federal law that was put in place specifically to do exactly what it sounds like: protect the privacy of children when they’re online.
But Disney, along with some of its software partners, allegedly violated this law by embedding trackers in some of the entertainment company’s most popular apps that tracked users’ information and allegedly distributed it to other companies and advertisers. As an entertainment company that primarily targets children, many of the users whose information is being tracked and disseminated are children aged 13 and younger.
The lawsuit lists dozens of popular Disney apps, including Cars Lightening League and Maleficent Free Fall, that, once downloaded, allowed the trackers embedded in the apps to collect the information and then extract it from the smart devices so it could be disseminated for commercial purposes – all without the knowledge or consent of the children’s parents, the lawsuit claims.
According to Jeffrey Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, Disney should not be using the software companies listed in the complaint. He says they involve heavy-duty technologies designed to track and monetize information on people, and as such, should not be working with a company that targets young children.
With an entertainment giant like Disney, we’re talking about a lot of data. Apps like “Disney Princess Palace Pets” have received thousands of reviews and “Moana Island Life” alone has been downloaded at least 1 million times and possibly as many as 5 million times. Multiply those numbers over dozens of games and we’re talking about a formidable number of upset parents.
The class action lawsuit was filed in San Francisco on behalf of Amanda Rushing and her child, but the class is seeking to represent customers in 35 states.
Unity, Kochava, and Upsight, three software developers for Disney, were also listed as defendants in the lawsuit. None of them have released statements, although Disney has publicly denied having done anything wrong, saying the lawsuit is “misguided” and founded on a misunderstanding of how the COPPA works. But Disney apparently intends to educate the plaintiffs on COPPA, saying it has every intention of defending itself in court.
Despite its insistence that it strictly adheres to the COPPA, this is not the first time Disney has had to deal with allegations that it violated the federal children’s privacy law. Six years ago, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), penalized Playdom, a Disney subsidiary, $3 million, after finding the company had registered more than a million users (mostly children) for online games and included the users’ sensitive information as part of their online profiles.
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