According to a lawsuit recently filed in San Francisco, the Walt Disney Company has allegedly been collecting personal information from children under the age of 13 and selling it to advertisers.
The filing claims Disney and three other software companies - Upsight, Unity, and Kochava - have violated the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and is seeking an injunction to bar the companies from collecting and sharing data without parental consent. It is also looking to collect punitive damages and legal fees. The plaintiffs listed in the case are Amanda Rushing and her child, L.L., "on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated," indicating that it is a class action suit.
The plaintiffs allege that Disney and its software partners embedded tracking tools within popular apps targeted at young children. Most of the apps are rated for children younger than five or for everyone / all ages.
"[The trackers] exfiltrate that information off the smart device for advertising and other commercial purposes," the suit claims. Profiles are sent to data and analytic companies for "commercial exploitation."
"These are heavy-duty technologies whose role is to track and monetize individuals," Jeffrey Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, told the Washington Post. "These should not be in little children's apps."
Disney issued a statement yesterday denying the claim and pledging to fight the lawsuit 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 complaint is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of COPPA principles, and we look forward to defending this action in Court."
Despite its "robust COPPA compliance program," Disney has been found guilty of similar violations in the past.
In 2011, the Federal Trade Commission fined the Disney subsidiary Playdom $3 million when it violated the child protection act by registering 1.2 million users for online play. Most of these users were under the age of 13. The registration collected similar information as the current apps in question such as email addresses, ages, full names, instant messenger handles and physical locations.
Some of the 42 apps listed in the lawsuit are extremely popular. Stats on the Google Play Store, for instance, show that Where's My Water? 2 has been downloaded over 100 million times and has been reviewed by almost two million users. Disney's Frozen Free Fall, which has been downloaded more than 50 million times, is another listed on the court filing.
The full list of apps named in the lawsuit includes:
- Beauty and the Beast Perfect Match
- Cars Lightening League
- Club Penguin Island
- Color by Disney
- Disney Color and Play
- Disney Crossy Road
- Disney Dream Treats
- Disney Emoji Blitz
- Disney Gif
- Disney Jigsaw Puzzle!
- Disney LOL
- Disney Princess: Story Theater
- Disney Store Become
- Disney Story Central
- Disney's Magic Timer by Oral-B
- Disney Princess: Charmed Adventures
- Dodo Pop
- Disney Build It Frozen
- DuckTales: Remastered
- Frozen Free Fall
- Frozen Free Fall: Icy Shot
- Good Dinosaur Storybook Deluxe
- Inside Out Thought Bubbles
- Maleficent Free Fall
- Miles from Tomorrowland: Missions
- Moana Island Life
- Olaf's Adventures
- Palace Pets in Whisker Haven
- Sofia the First Color and Play
- Sofia the First Secret Library
- Star Wars: Puzzle DroidsTM
- Star WarsTM: Commander
- Temple Run: Oz
- Temple Run: Brave
- The Lion Guard
- Toy Story: Story Theater
- Where's My Water?
- Where's My Mickey?
- Where's My Water? 2
- Where's My Water? Lite/Where's My Water? Free
- Zootopia Crime Files: Hidden Object
The class action seeks to represent consumers in 35 states. A trial date has not yet been set.