Disney Lands in Hot Water Over Child Data Collection

Everyone who has used apps from either Google’s Play Store or Apple’s App Store should know that developers and producers are legally required to obtain consent from users. This is why whenever you download a new app there is a pop-up box outlining the things to which the app is requesting access — including your personal data — and a tickbox to confirm that you understand the Terms of Service associated with the app. However, as an increasing number of children under the age of 13 use apps, the question has arisen as to whether any data collection by apps on children is illegal. One San Francisco mother will help answer that question soon enough.

Disney Gets Hit With Illegal Data Tracking Lawsuit

Disney has been accused of embedding code in its apps which collect and aggregate data on children. This data is allegedly used for enhancing advertising campaigns by creating consumer and demographic profiles of the children themselves. While the creation of those sorts of profiles are completely normal and legal for adult users of apps, the law is very different when it comes to minors. It appears that Disney may be in violation of the 1999 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. This act prohibits developers from creating apps which collect data on, and create behavioral profiles for, children under the age of 13.

That law was originally passed because of the incredibly impressionable nature of children. They are far more vulnerable to behavioral advertising than are adults and even older children. This would be an incredibly lucrative market for advertisers if they could use big data, but it is illegal and unethical to do so.

Where Does the Responsibility Lie?

While I agree that behavioral advertising campaigns should not be directed at children, this is hardly the first time we see this happening. Advertising to children is a huge business and it uses all sorts of trickery and cognitive exploits to get children to desire products and services. If we have a problem with Disney allegedly creating consumer profiles of children, then we should be just as upset at cereal box aisles, Saturday morning cartoons (which are almost just there for ad placements), and product placement in other contexts. Advertisers have been trying to reach their most responsive audience ever since they realized just how profitable it was.

In my opinion, the only difference here is that parents should be even more vigilant with their children’s apps, and we all need to be better about fully reading the terms of service for our apps and services. While companies should not be taking advantage of us and our children to push their products, we also have a responsibility to be smart consumers, and parents have a responsibility to be attentive to their children. In the same way that parents try to make sure their children’s diets are healthy, they should also do their best to ensure a healthy digital diet for kids as well. This includes limiting screen time along with deciding what apps they are allowed to play.


We will keep up with this story and provide updates as they arise.