One of the biggest pastimes for children is playing video games. According to a 2011 study conducted by The NPD Group, 91 percent of children aged 2-17 play video games. In 2015, the same organization reported that 61 percent of young gamers use mobile apps to get their fix.
Many gaming apps are free of charge, provided the user agrees that there may be offers for in-game purchases, advertisements and that the company may include software designed to collect data on that user. This is a perfectly legal agreement between adults, but when it comes to children there are laws in place by the FTC that require a parent to make the informed decision whether or not to consent to an app company compiling a marketing profile on their child.
It should come to no surprise that one of the largest companies responsible for designing gaming apps targeting children specifically is the Walt Disney Company. Producing games such as “Where’s My Water?”, “Palace Pets in Whisker Haven”, and “Zootopia: Crime Files” the company has been met with a huge success in extending their brand into the gaming app market. Now, it is these same successful apps that are landing the company in legal hot water.
In a complaint filed on behalf of Amanda Rushing, her daughter L.L., as well as others who have similar complaints about the company, it is alleged that Disney knowingly spied on the mobile activities of children and collected personal information in order to compile marketing profiles for advertisers. These allegations go against the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which states that parents have explicit control over what information websites and other online applications collect on children under the age of 13. The software development companies Upsight, Unity, and Kochava were also named in the complaint for providing the company with the software necessary to compile this data.
It’s been alleged that these marketing profiles were collected for the purpose of “commercial exploitation.” This information could be used to track the children’s online habits and to design personalized advertisements based on their geographic locations and personal interests.
This isn’t the first complaint against the company for illegally harvesting children’s personal data. In 2011, a subsidiary company faced similar litigation for allegedly disclosing personal information of hundreds of thousands of children. They later paid a penalty for these allegations.
Rushing claims that she had no knowledge of Disney collecting this information targeting her child. The complaint alleges that Disney never sought “verifiable parental consent” and had not provided “any of the required disclosures.”
The tech blog Gizmodo reached out to Disney for comment on the complaint. A representative stated:
“Disney has a robust COPPA compliance program, and we maintain strict data collection and use policies for Disney apps created for children and families. The complaint is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of COPPA principles, and we look forward to defending this action in Court.”