Disney Faces Lawsuit Over Apps That Allegedly Spy On Kids

A slew of Disney-branded mobile applications, including some Star Wars, Moana and Disney Princess apps, are allegedly spying on children across the United States.

A class-action suit filed in California claims that The Walt Disney Co is commercially exploiting minors, including kids under the age of 13, by secretly tracking them using high-end behavioral analytics code. The apps use sophisticated SDKs to allegedly collect personal data without consent before going on to “exfiltrate that information off the smart device for advertising and other commercial purposes,” according to the suit.

“These are heavy-duty technologies, industrial-strength data and analytic companies whose role is to track and monetize individuals,” Jeffrey Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, told the Washington Post. “These should not be in little children’s apps.”

The mom that brought the initial suit, Amanda Rushing, said in the complaint that her daughter, “L.L.” downloaded Disney Princess Palace Pets, an app that lets users “groom, bathe, accessorize and play” with 10 different pets, and which is clearly marketed towards children under the age of 13. She alleges that the defendants collected personal information on L.L. without her permission, and that there were no disclosure statements on the app nor requests for consent.

The complaint names Disney and three app development companies, Upsight, Unity and Kochava—alleging that they have violated COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. COPPA requires companies to directly obtain parental consent when a child’s personal information is collected, disclosed or used. There are additional protections for the privacy of children under 13 as well. The suit seeks an injunction barring the companies from collecting and disclosing the data without parental consent, as well as punitive damages and legal fees.

The House of Mouse, while not denying the actual spying activity, said that it has done nothing to fall afoul of regulations. “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 company said in a statement. “The complaint is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of COPPA principles, and we look forward to defending this action in Court.”

As a class action, the case also seeks to represent consumers in 35 states. The pool could end up being quite large: According to the Google Play store, Where’s my Water? 2 alone has been installed between 100 million and 500 million times.

The affected apps are:

  • AvengersNet
  • Beauty and the Beast
  • Perfect Match
  • Cars Lightening League
  • Club Penguin Island
  • Color by Disney
  • Disney Color and Play
  • Disney Crossy Road
  • Disney Dream Treats
  • Disney Emoji Blitz
  • Disney Gif
  • Disney Jigsaw Puzzle!
  • Disney LOL
  • Disney Princess: Story Theater
  • Disney Store Become
  • Disney Story Central
  • Disney's Magic Timer by Oral-B
  • Disney Princess: Charmed Adventures
  • Dodo Pop
  • Disney Build It Frozen
  • DuckTales: Remastered
  • Frozen Free Fall
  • Frozen Free Fall: Icy Shot
  • Good Dinosaur Storybook Deluxe
  • Inside Out Thought Bubbles
  • Maleficent Free Fall
  • Miles from Tomorrowland: Missions
  • Moana Island Life
  • Olaf's Adventures
  • Palace Pets in Whisker Haven
  • Sofia the First Color and Play
  • Sofia the First Secret Library
  • Star Wars: Puzzle Droids
  • Star Wars: Commander
  • Temple Run: Oz
  • Temple Run: Brave
  • The Lion Guard
  • Toy Story: Story Theater
  • Where’s My Water?
  • Where's My Mickey?
  • Where's My Water? 2
  • Where’s My Water? Lite/Where’s My Water? Free
  • Zootopia Crime Files: Hidden Object

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