Tags: privacy | disney | COPPA | lawsuit

Disney Apps That Spy on Kids? What You Need to Know

Disney Apps That Spy on Kids? What You Need to Know
In this Monday, Aug. 7, 2017, photo, The Walt Disney Co. logo appears on a screen above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Monday, 14 August 2017 04:41 PM Current | Bio | Archive

You may have missed the most recent story of online privacy privation amid what seems to be a non-stop blitzkrieg of 1930s-style news in the here-and-now, but this one is important: Disney is getting sued for something that matters — a lot.

In a federal lawsuit filed last week in California, it is alleged that Disney and the three companies they hired to create apps for kids engaged in the commercial exploitation of children, specifically collecting the personal information of minors without parental consent, and sharing it with advertisers. It is a class action lawsuit.

Upsight, Unity, and Kochava are named in the lawsuit for developing apps that collect insights into behavior and interests of minors. The complaint alleges that Disney, et al, acted in direct violation of COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

42 apps in total are specified in the lawsuit.

The Law Is Crystal Clear

COPPA is a federal law designed to protect the privacy of children online. The suit seeks punitive damages, and also an immediate cessation of the practice of surveilling minors for marketing opportunities.

The Federal Trade Commission figured this out a while back. COPPA made it the law of the land that any online product or service — app, shopping site, media site — with clientele under the age of 13 had to serve those perspective clients a prominent privacy policy stating in simple, easy-to-understand terms what’s going to happen with a user’s information (e.g., “We’re going to spy on you, and use what we learn to sell things to you.”).

COPPA requires that the privacy policy state the kind of information being collected and what the service or app plans to do with that data (or can do should it choose to in the future). Directions on how parents can give their consent should also be included in this COPPA-mandated notification.

This Should Matter to You

It doesn’t matter if you have children. This is about companies taking responsibility for the still insufficiently regulated territory of online marketing.

It should go without saying that Disney has, and had, the brain-power to steer clear of such an easy-to-avoid liability. In this litigation, the plaintiffs argue that the defendants saw the privacy grab for what it was, and went ahead anyway. If that turns out to be the case, this is a set of circumstances that can affect all of us. Companies need to be brought to heel when it comes to consumer privacy.

The software companies named in the lawsuit create best-in-class data analytics that are increasingly ubiquitous in the online lives of adults, but have zero legitimacy when it comes to the online behavior of children, in my opinion.

The software in question gathers use, history, and other details and then beams that data back to its maker to be used for more effective advertising and marketing pointed at the person whose information has been swiped — or “taken” under cover of an unread privacy policy.

That the tracking technology was used is troubling. That any organization involved in children’s entertainment allowed a third party to embed sophisticated trackers that take information from smart devices is light years beyond sigh-worthy.

Whenever I see a picture of a child on social media, I can’t help but register the fact that he or she isn’t old enough to know whether or not it’s okay for the world — and more specifically marketing companies — to have a picture of them. A full understanding of the pervasive loss of privacy we’ve suffered over the last decade or so, and the ramification of that, will take some time.

The fact is most children don’t get to decide how much of their personal information is available to third parties — whether it’s a photograph that can be used by facial recognition programs, their app use, or their complete browsing history.

It’s a feature of the Wild West days of digital marketing that consumer protections are hit or miss — or even miss and miss. That said, regardless of its resources, no company has the right to take advantage of a cultural lag in privacy ethics.

Adam K. Levin is a consumer advocate with more than 30 years of experience and is a nationally recognized expert on cybersecurity, privacy, identity theft, fraud, and personal finance. A former Director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, Mr. Levin is Chairman and founder of CyberScout and co-founder of Credit.com. Adam Levin is the author of Amazon.com Best Seller "Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers, and Identity Thieves." He is the security and credit expert for ABCNews.com and writes a weekly column for The Huffington Post, Inc. Magazine, The Hill, and Newsmax. Mr. Levin is a go-to expert appearing on many national TV programs including "The Today Show," "Good Morning America," "MSNBC Live," "Fox and Friends," "NBC Nightly News," "ABC World News Tonight," "Cavuto Coast to Coast," "Bloomberg Surveillance," as well as radio nationally. Read more of his reports — Go Here Now.

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You may have missed the most recent story of online privacy privation amid what seems to be a non-stop blitzkrieg of 1930s-style news in the here-and-now, but this one is important: Disney is getting sued for something that matters — a lot.
privacy, disney, COPPA, lawsuit
Monday, 14 August 2017 04:41 PM
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