Disney, Unity face lawsuit over collection of personal info through kids games

According to a class action lawsuit, 42 of Disney's mobile games could be in violation of an act set up to protect the privacy of children online.

A federal class action lawsuit has taken form in California, alleging that a number of apps and games owned by the Walt Disney Company violate privacy protection laws and illegally collect the personal information of children. 

If those allegations are proven true, Disney and the three other companies named in the lawsuit could be in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and face hefty fees, in addition to the relief and damages sought by the plaintiff.

COPPA is one of many legal acts that developers have to keep in mind when creating games for a younger crowd, and lawsuits like this can act as a stark reminder of that fact.

The act itself dictates that companies, developers, and third-party advertisers must have parental consent before collecting personal information from children under the age of 13 online, such as IP addresses and location information.

The lawsuit accuses Disney, Unity, Upsight, and Kochava of creating mobile apps that tracked, collected, and exported the personal information and online behavioral data of children. Specifically, the plaintiff says the mobile game Disney Princess Palace Pets collected her child’s data without her knowledge, though the lawsuit was expanded to cover 42 Disney games that it alleges are not COPPA compliant. 

In a statement given to L.A. Biz, Disney maintains that it is well aware of COPPA regulations and instead believes the lawsuit is based on a misunderstanding of the act, rather than actual violations.

“Disney has a robust COPPA compliance program, and we maintain strict data collection and use policies for Disney apps created for children and families,” reads the statement. “The complaint is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of COPPA principles, and we look forward to defending this action in court.”

The latest suit isn’t the first time Disney has reportedly run afoul of COPPA. The now shuttered Disney subsidiary Playdom faced allegations of COPPA violations in 2011 and was eventually hit with a $3 million penalty as a result.

Recently, a separate lawsuit filed earlier this week accused a different developer of COPPA violations. In that case, parents in both New York and California alleged the Danish game companies behind Subway Surfers collected and sold personal data without parental consent. 

If you're concerned that your game may not be COPPA-compliant, now is as good of a time as any to take a look back at these informative Gamasutra blog posts on the subject from COPPA compliance aid AgeCheq founder Roy Smith.


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