Welcome Your IET account
Kids at Disneyland with castle

Disney to be brought to court for spying on children using apps

Image credit: Dreamstime

A federal lawsuit has been filed in California against The Walt Disney Company. The lawsuit claims that Disney has been secretly collecting personal information about children using 42 apps, and sharing that data with advertisers without parental consent.

The apps include Disney Color and Play, Disney Gif, AvengersNet, Disney Princess: Charmed Adventures, two Temple Run games, and two Star Wars apps. Many of these apps mentioned by the lawsuit have been installed on millions of smartphones.

The class-action lawsuit is being filed in the US District Court for the District of Northern California on behalf of a woman and her child living in San Francisco and seeks to represent consumers in 35 states.

The lawsuit has been brought against Disney and three software companies: Upsight, Unity and Kochava. It accuses these companies of building illegal smartphone apps which gather data on their users – largely children under the age of 13 – across the Internet.

“Most consumers, including parents, do not know that apps created for children are engineered to surreptitiously and unlawfully collect the child-users’ personal information,” the lawsuit states, facilitating “commercial exploitation”. The Federal Trade Commission requires online services targeted at children to display an easy-to-read privacy policy which described what information could be collected and what it could be used for.

The plaintiffs argue that Disney and the software companies have violated the 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a federal law intended to protect children’s privacy online, by embedding trackers in apps which are capable of “[exfiltrating] that information off the smart device for advertising and other commercial purposes”. In 2011, a Disney subsidiary, Playdom, was fined $3 million for collecting email addresses and ages – as well as full names and locations – from 1.2m users, mostly children.

Now, the plaintiffs are seeking an injunction banning the companies from collecting and disclosing personal data collected by these 42 apps without parental consent, as well as damages and legal fees.

According to Jeffery Chester, executive director for the Centre for Digital Democracy,  these “heavy-duty” data collection technologies “should not be in little children’s apps”

In a statement released this week, Disney announced its intention to defend itself in the case.

“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.”

In recent years, Disney has quietly expanded its reach beyond traditional animated children’s films, acquiring the rights to the Star Wars franchise and the Marvel superhero universe, opening a Disneyland resort in Shanghai, and filing patents for entertainment drones. It has recently announced that it will withdraw its content from Netflix, and establish its own streaming service to bring its productions directly to consumers.

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles

Info Message

We use cookies to give you the best online experience. Please let us know if you agree to all of these cookies.

Learn more about IET cookies and how to control them