Advocacy Group Says Disney Site Violates Children's Privacy Rules

The Disney site Marvelkids.com doesn't comply with federal rules aimed at protecting children's privacy, the advocacy organization Center for Digital Democracy says in a complaint filed this week with the Federal Trade Commission.

The CDD alleges that Marvel allows numerous ad networks to gather data from visitors “through use of various tracking technologies.”

New Children's Online Privacy Protection Act regulations -- which went into effect in July -- prohibit ad networks and operators of Web sites aimed at children from using behavioral targeting techniques on children under 13, without their parents' consent.

Those new rules mean that companies can no longer use unique cookies to serve children ads based on their Web activity without parental consent. But companies are allowed to use cookies for other purposes, including frequency capping and site analysis.

The Walt Disney Company on Thursday denied the allegations in CDD's complaint. “We are fully mindful of our obligations under COPPA and have robust processes in place to meet them,” the company said in a statement.

As of Thursday, the privacy policy at Marvelkids.com said the company may use ad networks to serve ads to visitors. The privacy policy also indicated that the company allows third-party companies to engage in behavioral targeting of visitors. “These companies may use information ... about your visits to this and other Web sites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you,” the policy states. The policy was last updated in April of 2012, which was before the new regulations banning behavioral targeting of children took effect.

The site carries an icon stating that it's certified by the Better Business Bureau's Children's Advertising Review Unit. But on Thursday, the landing page for that icon said that the BBB was “unable to find an active record for the seal number provided.”

Wayne Keeley, director of CARU, said in a statement that the unit hasn't seen the complaint and doesn't have details about the allegations. He added that CARU and advocacy groups are examining child-directed sites to evaluate whether they are complying with the new regulations.

The Center for Digital Democracy also filed a separate FTC complaint against the Tokyo-based Sanrio, which developed the Hello Kitty Carnival Mobile app. The group says the app allows mobile ad networks to collect data that can be used for behavioral targeting.
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