Disney is in the news again and this time it’s for spying. Apparently, over 40 of the smartphone/tablet games released by Disney have ad tracking built in. That is usually not a surprise when you’re using an app but when the apps are intended for children it changes the game completely. The Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act puts certain limits on what a website or app are allowed to do with information collected from individuals under 13 years of age. Using their information for ad tracking isn’t allowed under COPPA guidelines and a resident of California is taking the company to court because of this policy.
AvengersNet, Beauty and the Beast, Cars Lightning League, Club Penguin Island, Disney Gif, Frozen Free Fall, and many more apps have all been discovered to be collecting data entered by the children using the apps so that Disney can sell it to advertisers. This information is then used to easily target children with these advertiser’s marketing campaigns. Information such as geolocation, age, web history, email address, and full name are collected in many of these games and are quite valuable to marketing companies. Disney can also use this information to better target the advertising built into their own apps.
Disney has paid fines for misuse of information before. In 2011, Playcom, a Disney subsidiary paid 3 million in fines for collecting email addresses, full names, and other information from minors. There’s obviously money to be made from collecting personal information. The question is how can we keep this from happening to our kids?
What Parents Should Know
This is why so many apps are free. You’re not paying with money but you’re paying with information. When you or your kids use an app, you should always assume your information is being collected. Sites and apps save passwords, email addresses, and usernames to use on their site but they don’t have to just store that information. They can use that info to make more money as well. There is no way to avoid having the information you enter into apps, software, and websites collected for purposes outside of your control. The key is to control what information you put into those apps.
There are browsers and plugins that will help you avoid ad tracking. You can search with DuckDuckGo instead of Google, for instance. You can install the AdBlocker extension for Google Chrome to keep some sites from taking your information. The problem is that many of these sites know that blockers are in effect and won’t release all of the features of their site until you disable them. Apps come with tracking built in so there isn’t really any way to avoid letting them take your information. My advice is to only enter information that you would be willing to make public. If you wouldn’t put it on an advertising survey for some company then you shouldn’t enter it into their site or app either.
As for your children, you have to take the same precautions as you would yourself. In fact, consider being even more strict with the information you enter into the apps your children use. Don’t let them use their real full name or their social media account usernames. Don’t allow them to enter their email address or any contact information. You should enter whatever info you would for yourself and then allow them to use the app. I have a “family” email address that I use for apps or software that want an email address from my kids. My children don’t even know the address or login information, it’s strictly to use for logging in to a couple of the educational or silly game apps they like to use. These are a few of the things you can do to protect your kids from being tracked for advertising. It’s important that they understand that whatever information they enter online will immediately be outside of their control. Teach them to keep private things private. This will protect them from so much more than just advertising.