Is Disney Spying on Children?

Company accused of collecting kids’ data through RFID wristbands, gaming apps, and toys

25 September 2017

Millions of people visit Disney theme parks and resorts around the world each year. Disney primarily markets to children and their parents, offering a great experience at the “Happiest Place on Earth.” To make its guests’ visit go smoothly, the company uses technology.

For example, visitors can purchase the MagicBand, a personalized bracelet equipped with an RFID chip to unlock their hotel room, enter parks, and buy food and souvenirs. The convenience the band provides, however, might come at a price: an invasion of privacy.

After receiving the MagicBand during a visit to Disney World, a senior editor at Gizmodo, Adam Clark Estes, was curious about what technology was involved, so he cut the band open. He found basic RFID technology and two antennas: one for short-range radio and one for long-range. What concerned him most was the long-range antenna, because it constantly sends signals to beacons, providing information such as the guest’s location in the park. Disney is using the technology to gather other data about park guests, such as their purchases and ride preferences.

Once Estes understood the scope of the technology, he said, he was less stressed about the band, but he said Disney’s “vague answers” and the potential uses of the long-range radio transmissions still left him uneasy. He questioned whether people should sacrifice their privacy and security for the conveniences that the technology offers, especially when children are involved.

It isn’t the first time that Disney has been accused of masking an invasion of privacy with the allure of convenience.

TOO YOUNG TO CONSENT

A class-action lawsuit filed in August claims the Walt Disney Co. violated the U.S. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. COPPA places restrictions and requirements on online services directed at children younger than 13.

The basis of the lawsuit, according to a Gizmodo article, is that Disney allowed advertising technology companies Kochava, Unity, and Upsight to incorporate their software into Disney’s gaming apps to collect data about the young users.

The lawsuit claims Disney installed software development kits that use data for tracking online behavior. The data includes geographical location, browsing history, and app usage, the suit alleges.

One plaintiff, mother Amanda Rushing, said that she was unaware of the data collection, and that Disney did not obtain “verifiable” parental consent from her when she purchased Disney Princess: Palace Pets for her daughter.

Disney sent Gizmodo a statement, asserting it has “a robust COPPA compliance program” and saying the complaint is based on “a fundamental misunderstanding of COPPA principles.”

WHAT THE DOLL KNOWS

In another case, Germany banned My Friend Cayla, an interactive doll made by Genesis Toys, a company that was accused of engaging in undisclosed product placement for Disney.

Cayla is Bluetooth-enabled and uses speech recognition and Android OS or iOS technology to recognize a child’s voice. Similar to Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa, the doll can respond to questions.

CBS News reported that the doll promotes Disney products to children as part of its answers. For example, the doll says that its favorite song is “Let It Go” from Disney’s Frozen and that it loves visiting Disneyland and Disney World, according to CBS. Researchers found that Cayla is programmed with responses endorsing the company.

Are you concerned about Disney spying?

Learn More