Walt Disney Co. secretly collects personal information on some of its younger clients and exchanges data with advertisers illegally without parental consent, according to a federal lawsuit filed last week in California.
The class suit is for Disney and three other software companies – Upsight, Unity and Kochava – claiming that the mobile applications they have built violate the law by collecting information about users of Internet applications, there are including the age of 13 years that facilitate commercial exploitation.
The plaintiffs argue that Disney and its partners violated the COPPA Act, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, a federal law to protect children’s privacy on the Web.
The lawsuit, filed in the District Court for the Northern District of California, seeks a court order prohibiting companies from collecting and disclosing data without parental consent, as well as punitive damages and legal costs.
The lawsuit claims that Disney has allowed software companies to integrate crawlers into applications such as “Disney Princess Palace Animals” and “Where’s My Water?”
Once installed, the tracking software can “smuggle this information out of the smart device for advertising and other commercial purposes,” according to the lawsuit.
Disney should not use these software development companies, said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.
“They are a robust technology, industrial use data and analysis companies, whose function is to track and obtain economic benefits from people,” said Chester. “It should not be in children’s applications.”
Disney has said that the lawsuit is wrong and intends to defend in court. “Disney has a robust COPPA compliance program, and we maintain a strict policy of data collection and use applications created by Disney for children and families,” the company said in a statement Monday.
“The lawsuit is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the principles of the COPPA law, and we look forward to defending this action in the Court.”
The policy should specify the type of information collected and what the service could do with that data. Instructions on how parents can give their consent should also be included.
This is not the first time Disney has been a dispute over alleged violations of COPPA. In 2011, the FTC has penalized a corporate subsidiary Playdom, 3 million after Playdom has registered about 1.2 million users, mostly children, for online games.
The Federal Trade Commission’s ruling said Disney has collected e-mail addresses and the ages of the children and voluntarily allowed them information such as their full names, instant messengers and their physical sites as part of their online profiles.
Many Disney gaming applications are very popular. According to the Google Play Store installed between 100 million and 500 million times “Where is my water 2?”;