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According to a federal lawsuit filed late last week in California, Burbank-based mass media & entertainment firm; The Walt Disney secretly collects personal information on some of their youngest customers and shares that data illegally with advertisers without parental consent.

The class-action suit targets Disney and three other software companies – Upsight, Unity and Kochava – alleging that the mobile apps they built together violate the law by gathering insights about app users across the Internet, including those under the age of 13, in ways that facilitate “commercial exploitation.”

The plaintiffs argue that Disney and its partners violated COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, a federal law designed to protect the privacy of children on the Web. The lawsuit, filed in US District Court for the District of Northern California, seeks an injunction barring the companies from collecting and disclosing the data without parental consent, as well as punitive damages and legal fees.

The lawsuit alleges that Disney allowed the software companies to embed trackers in apps such as Disney Princess Palace Pets and Where’s My Water? 2. Once installed, tracking software can then “exfiltrate that information off the smart device for advertising and other commercial purposes,” according to the suit.

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

Disney said the lawsuit is misguided and intends to defend it in court. “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 Monday. “The complaint is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of COPPA principles, and we look forward to defending this action in Court.”

According to the Federal Trade Commission, online services that target users under the age of 13 should display a privacy policy that is plain to read and easy to understand. The policy must state the kind of information being collected and what the service might do with that data. Directions on how parents can give their consent should also be included.

This is not the first time Disney has faced litigation over alleged COPPA violations. In 2011, the FTC penalized a company subsidiary, Playdom, $3 million after Playdom was found to have registered about 1.2 million users, most of them children, for online games. The FTC’s lawsuit said Disney collected children’s email addresses and ages, and allowed them to volunteer information such as their full names, instant messenger handles and physical locations as part of their online profiles.

Kochava, Upsight and Unity did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit.

Many of Disney’s gaming apps are immensely popular. According to the Google Play store, Where’s my Water? 2 has been installed between 100 million and 500 million times; Moana Island Life has been installed between 1 million and 5 million times; and, in another measure of the company’s online success, Disney Princess Palace Pets has been reviewed more than 6,000 times by iOS users.

The class-action suit was filed on behalf of a San Francisco woman named Amanda Rushing and her child, “L.L.” As a class action, the case also seeks to represent consumers in 35 states.

The full list of affected apps named in the complaint includes:

  1. AvengersNet
  2. Beauty and the Beast
  3. Perfect Match
  4. Cars Lightening League
  5. Club Penguin Island
  6. Color by Disney
  7. Disney Color and Play
  8. Disney Crossy Road
  9. Disney Dream Treats
  10. Disney Emoji Blitz
  11. Disney Gif
  12. Disney Jigsaw Puzzle!
  13. Disney LOL
  14. Disney Princess: Story Theater
  15. Disney Store Become
  16. Disney Story Central
  17. Disney’s Magic Timer by Oral-B
  18. Disney Princess: Charmed Adventures
  19. Dodo Pop
  20. Disney Build It Frozen
  21. DuckTales: Remastered
  22. Frozen Free Fall
  23. Frozen Free Fall: Icy Shot
  24. Good Dinosaur Storybook Deluxe
  25. Inside Out Thought Bubbles
  26. Maleficent Free Fall
  27. Miles from Tomorrowland: Missions
  28. Moana Island Life
  29. Olaf’s Adventures
  30. Palace Pets in Whisker Haven
  31. Sofia the First Color and Play
  32. Sofia the First Secret Library
  33. Star Wars: Puzzle DroidsTM
  34. Star WarsTM: Commander
  35. Temple Run: Oz
  36. Temple Run: Brave
  37. The Lion Guard
  38. Toy Story: Story Theater
  39. Where’s My Water?
  40. Where’s My Mickey?
  41. Where’s My Water? 2
  42. Where’s My Water? Lite/Where’s My Water? Free
  43. Zootopia Crime Files: Hidden Object

Source: The Washington Post (with inputs from NDTV news)