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Disney Accused of Illegally Spying on Kids Through Mobile Apps

By Kevin Burwick — August 8th, 2017

Disney has allegedly been illegally collecting children's personal information through various apps and games. The class action lawsuit claims that ad-tracking software embedded within Disney's mobile games is illegally keeping tabs on its users and selling the information to third parties. The Children's Online Privacy Act places restrictions on sites directed towards children under the age of 13. The act is set to protect children from the kind of action that Disney is being accused of currently.

The Hollywood Reporter reveals that San Francisco resident Amanda Rushing is suing the Walt Disney Company, Disney Electronic Content, and others in a class action lawsuit that was on Thursday of last week. Rushing is claiming that an advertising-specific software development kit is embedded within certain apps and games that are able to track personal online behavior. Some of the games included in the suit are Disney Princess Palace Pets, Dodo Pop, Club Penguin Pop, Disney Crossy Road, Cars Lightning League, Disney Build It Frozen, Zootopia, and the wildly popular Emoji Blitz.

Rushing's attorney Michael Sobol has brought up the Children's Online Privacy Act and the fact that it's supposed to protect children from this kind of act. Sobol explains.

"Disney has failed to safeguard children's personal information and ensure that third-parties' collection of data from children is lawful. Congress enacted the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act for very good reasons. As a company long-engaged in the practice of engaging, and profiting from, children, Disney needs to make sure its games and apps comply with the law."

Fans of HBO's Silicon Valley may be familiar to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act from when Dinesh took over the Pied Piper Chat and unknowingly violated the comprehensive privacy policy resulting in billions of dollars worth of fines before selling the chat app to Hooli. In other words, Disney could end up with some hefty fines if the lawsuit is successful.

Disney has gotten in trouble with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act once before in 2011 when a company subsidiary, Playdom Inc., the developers of PonyStars and My Diva Doll, were accused of collecting the personal information of children from 2006 through 2010. It has been estimated that PonyStars alone had nearly 1 million active users. To be fair, a large part of the PonyStars players were probably adult males over the age of 13, collectively known as Bronies. A Disney spokesperson reached out to the Hollywood Reporter late last week with a statement. The spokesperson had this to say.

"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."

It is not clear at this time just what that "fundamental misunderstanding" of the COPPA principles is, but one thing is certain: Disney intends to fight Rushing's claims. This is a developing story and more news is expected to be announced at a later time.

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