Dis­ney apps are spy­ing on your kids, U.S. law­suit claims

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - BRIAN FUNG AND HAMZA SHABAN The Washington Post

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, 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.

“The com­plaint is based on a fun­da­men­tal mis­un­der­stand­ing of COPPA prin­ci­ples, and we look for­ward to de­fend­ing this ac­tion in Court.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Fed­eral Trade Com­mis­sion, on­line ser­vices that tar­get users un­der the age of 13 should dis­play a pri­vacy pol­icy that is plain to read and easy to un­der­stand.


The Walt Dis­ney Co. logo ap­pears on a screen above the floor of the New York Stock Ex­change.

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