Disney Is Illegally Tracking Children Through Its Apps, Lawsuit Says

Complaint claims that gaming apps are gathering information without the legally required consent and disclosure

Disney has been slapped with a lawsuit filed by a San Francisco mother who says that her child was illegally tracked through one of the company’s apps.

The proposed class-action lawsuit, filed against the Walt Disney Company and others by Amanda Rushing and her child — identified only as “L.L.”  — alleges that Disney’s gaming apps are embedded with code that tracks children’s data, which is ultimately used for “behavioral advertising to children whose profile fits a set of demographic and behavioral traits.”

“Most consumers, including parents of children consumers, do not know that apps created for children are engineered to surreptitiously and unlawfully collect the child-users’ personal information, and then exfiltrate that information off the smart device for advertising and other commercial purposes,” the lawsuit, filed Thursday, reads.

According to the suit, Disney is violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, enacted by Congress in 1999, which dictates that “developers of child-focused apps, and any third-parties working with these app developers, cannot lawfully obtain the personal information of children under 13 years of age without first obtaining verifiable consent from their parents.”

Rushing contends that no such consent was obtained — or even sought — when L.L. began playing Disney Princess Palace Pets app when she was under the age of 13.

“Plaintiff never knew that Defendants collected, disclosed, or used her child’s personal information because Defendants at all times failed to provide Plaintiff any of the required disclosures, never sought verifiable parental consent, and never provided a mechanism by which Plaintiff could provide verifiable consent,” the lawsuit reads.

In addition to Disney Princess Palace Pets, the lawsuit lists numerous other Disney-related apps that allegedly violate COPPA.

“Children are especially vulnerable to online tracking and the resulting behavioral advertising. As children’s cognitive abilities still are developing, they have limited understanding or awareness of sophisticated advertising and therefore are less likely than adults to distinguish between the actual content of online gaming apps and the advertising content that is targeted to them alongside it,” the suit reads. “Thus, children may engage with advertising content without realizing they are
doing so.”

“Defendants’ tracking and collection of L.L.’s personal information without her verifiable parental consent is highly offensive to Ms. Rushing and constitutes an invasion of her child’s privacy and of Ms. Rushing’s right to protect her child from this invasion,” the suit notes.

Rushing is asking the court to certify the suit as a class action, as well as an order preventing the defendants from engaging in the allegedly illegal activity, as well as unspecified damages “in an amount to be determined at trial.”

In a statement to TheWrap, a spokesman for the Walt Disney Company said that the lawsuit is “based on a fundamental misunderstanding of COPPA principles.”

“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 statement read. “The complaint is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of COPPA principles, and we look forward to defending this action in Court.”

Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.