The Walt Disney Co. secretly collects personal information on some of their youngest customers and shares that data illegally with advertisers without parental consent, according to a federal lawsuit filed late last week in California.
The class-action suit targets Disney and three other software companies — Upsight, Unity and Kochava — alleging that the mobile apps they built together violate the law by gathering insights about app users across the Internet, including those under the age of 13, in ways that facilitate “commercial exploitation.”
The plaintiffs argue that Disney and its partners violated COPPA, the Children’s
Online Privacy Protection Act, a federal law designed to protect the privacy of children on the Web. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Northern California, seeks an injunction barring the companies from collecting and disclosing the data without parental consent, as well as punitive damages and legal fees.
The lawsuit alleges that Disney allowed the software companies to embed trackers in apps such as “Disney Princess Palace Pets” and “Where’s My Water? 2.” Once installed, tracking software can then “exfiltrate that information off the smart device for advertising and other commercial purposes,” according to the suit.
Disney should not be using those software development companies, said Jeffrey Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. “These are heavy-duty technologies, industrial-strength data and analytic companies whose role is to track and monetize individuals,” Chester said. “These should not be in little children’s apps.”
Disney said the lawsuit is misguided and intends to defend it in court. “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 company said in a statement Monday. “The complaint is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of COPPA principles, and we look forward to defending this action in Court.”
This is not the first time Disney has faced litigation over alleged COPPA violations. In 2011, the FTC penalized a company subsidiary, Playdom, $3 million after Playdom was found to have registered about 1.2 million users, most of them children, for online games. The FTC’s lawsuit said Disney collected children’s email addresses and ages, and allowed them to volunteer information such as their full names, instant messenger handles and physical locations as part of their online profiles.
Kochava, Upsight and Unity did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit.
Many of Disney’s gaming apps are immensely popular. According to the Google Play store, “Where’s my Water? 2” has been installed between 100 million and 500 million times; “Moana Island Life” has been installed between 1 million and 5 million times; and, in another measure of the company’s online success, “Disney Princess Palace Pets” has been reviewed more than 6,000 times by iOS users.
The class-action suit was filed on behalf of a San Francisco woman named Amanda Rushing and her child, “L.L.” As a class action, the case also seeks to represent consumers in 35 states.
Source: Washington Post