As reported by The New York Times, a judge has granted final approval to the settlement between Disney, Viacom, Kiloo and other gaming companies and parents who accused them of violating child privacy protection laws by collecting and selling personal identifying information of children who used their child-focused mobile apps. The lawsuits alleged the media giants collected kid’s personal data without parental consent and improperly used it to profit by targeting them with ads and pushing them to make in-app purchases.
Under the settlement, which The Times says could reshape the entire children’s app market, Disney, Viacom and 10 advertising technology firms have agreed to remove or disable certain advertising software from their apps to address the accusations that they violated the privacy of millions of children.
The settlement agreements resolve three related class-action lawsuits filed by Lieff Cabraser and co-counsel on behalf of parents that involved some of the biggest ad-tech firms and some of the most frequently downloaded children’s apps — including the massively popular “Subway Surfers,” smartphone game, that users worldwide have installed more than 1.5 billion times, according data obtained by The Times.
“This is going to be the biggest change to the children’s app market that we’ve seen that gets at the business models,” said Josh Golin, the executive director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a nonprofit in Boston. “On thousands of apps, children will no longer be targeted with the most insidious and manipulative forms of marketing.”
The settlements come as the Federal Trade Commission has ramped up its efforts toward pursuing children’s privacy cases against individual software developers and ad-tech companies. But children’s advocates have noted that it’s class-action cases, which involve a much larger segment of the app and ad tech marketplace, that have a greater possibility of prompting larger industrywide changes for apps and ads aimed at young people.
About the Disney & Viacom Class Action Child Privacy Violation Lawsuits
Lieff Cabraser’s class lawsuit against Viacom was brought on behalf of the parent of a child who, while playing Nickelodeon games via smart phone apps, had her personally identifying information exfiltrated by Viacom and its partners for future commercial exploitation in direct violation of the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”), 15 U.S.C. §§ 6501–6506. Plaintiffs also brought their claims under state law to obtain damages and a court injunction forcing the companies to cease these practices and sequester all illegally obtained information.
The lawsuit also named Upsight and Unity, ad tech companies that embedded software in Viacom’s child-focused Nickelodeon apps to track, collect, and export the children’s personal information. The lawsuit alleged that this software captured children’s personal information along with information about their online behavior, which was then sold to third party companies which tracked the children’s behavior across multiple apps and devices for subsequent ad targeting.
The lawsuits against The Walt Disney Company as well as developers Kiloo & Sybo, creators of the massively popular “Subway Surfers” smartphone game, were similarly filed on behalf of aggrieved parents. Each of the lawsuits puts forward the same core claims alleging improper data extraction and child information merchandising by the game creators and their tech partners.