Disney sued for collecting data in kids’ apps


A California woman is bringing a class action lawsuit against the Walt Disney Company, alleging that a large number of the company’s apps aimed at children have been illegally tracking users and selling data to advertisers.

The plaintiff said that she was unaware that data was being collected on her child as she played Disney Princess Palace Pets, and claims that the data was then sold to third parties for targeted advertising. In total 42, apps are namechecked in the complaint including Duck Tales Remastered, Star Wars: Commander and Temple Run Oz (which is themed around Oz the Great and Powerful, rather than the harrowing prison drama Oz.)

The lawsuit claims that the alleged data collection is a violation of the 1999 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which requires parental consent for data to be collected on children aged 13 and under. It’s a law that Disney should be pretty aware of, given one of its subsidiaries settled a similar case back in 2011.

They certainly seem to be, judging by the bullish statement the company put out. I didn’t think anyone ever actively looked forward to going to court, but apparently I was wrong. “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 wrote in a statement. “The complaint is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of COPPA principles, and we look forward to defending this action in court.”

Naturally, the law firm taking Disney to court sees things a little differently. “Congress enacted the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”) for very good reasons,” said Michael W. Sobol, one of the lawyers who filed the suit. “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. They and the companies they work with always have to obtain verifiable parental consent before extracting kids’ data from their mobile devices when kids play Disney’s mobile apps.”

The plaintiff is looking for an injunction blocking Disney from tracking and sharing data without parental consent, alongside “appropriate relief, including actual and statutory damages and punitive damages” plus costs.

We’ll see what happens when it comes to court. If nothing else, it should be entertaining to see suited-and-booted legal professionals having to repeat the words “Disney Princess Palace Pets” over and over again for the duration of the trial.

Image: CL Photographs, used under Creative Commons

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