Lawsuit Suggests Disney Apps Are Tracking Users
Disney may be violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.
A new lawsuit has hit Disney and it suggests that the company is tracking users with its range of Disney apps and mobile games.
The lawsuit is going hard against Disney, suggesting that the company is violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.
The lawsuit doesn’t come from an organization, but from a mom living in San Francisco. Amanda Rushing has suggested that some of Disney’s apps have implemented and SDK that tracks user data and information for advertising purposes.
Amanda Rusing has consulted an attorney to help with her case. Her attorney, Michael Sobol, has stated that, “App developers and their SDK-providing partners can track children’s behavior while they play online games with their mobile devices by obtaining critical pieces of data from the mobile devices, including ‘persistent identifiers,’ typically a unique number linked to a specific mobile device.”
“These persistent identifiers allow SDK providers to detect a child’s activity across multiple Disney apps and platforms on the internet, and across different devices, effectively providing a full chronology of the child’s actions across devices and apps. This information is then sold to various third-parties who sell targeted online advertising.”
Before we start pointing fingers directly at Disney, it should be mentioned that this type of user tracking is often implemented in applications. It’s actually very common to see such SDKs used to help bring targeted advertising to app users.
The lawsuit, however, focuses on the fact that Disney is specifically selling apps to children. Michael Sobol argues that children should be protected against such user tracking when considering the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.
It will be interesting to see how this lawsuit goes down in court. Disney has responded to the lawsuit by saying, “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.”
In a world where we are provided free services in return for our data, this lawsuit might not stand up against Disney. Disney is certainly not the first app to track user data to sell to advertisers.
The important thing to keep in mind is that this data is handled very carefully. Unlike malware, which may use techniques such as SMS tracking, keylogging, or screen recording to capture user data, the SDK used by Disney can only track browsing data and create a identifier profile to send targeted adverts to each user.
The argument over whether this data can be collected from children still stands up for debate, however, so it will be very interesting to see what happens in court.
There needs to be clearer rules when it comes to tracking children’s data for advertising purposes. It should perhaps be made clearer that such data is being tracked when a user installs an app, and parents should also be given information as to why the data is being tracked in the first place.