Several advocacy groups accused McDonald’s, General Mills and other companies of violating kids’ privacy by viral marketing, and asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the issue, according to media reports.
The Center for Media Justice, the Center for Digital Democracy, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and 14 other consumer advocates filed a complaint against McDonaldâ€™s, Viacomâ€™s children channel Nickelodeon, Doctor’s Associates, Turner Broadcasting System, and General Mills under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.
The companies allegedly ask kids to divulge personal and friendsâ€™ information without parental consent, and use the data for marketing. McDonaldâ€™s website happymeal.com, for instance, has a feature which allows children of any age to make music videos with their pictures on a cartoon character.
â€œThe site then encourages the child to â€˜shareâ€™ the video with up to five of her friends by entering in their names and email addresses,â€ the advocacy coalition said in the complaint. â€œEach friend receives an email with the subject line, â€˜You’ve been tagged for fun by a friend! Check it out! … In this way, McDonald’s gets an ever-increasing number of children to visit the branded Happy Meal website.â€
The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act was implemented in the U.S. in 2000, giving parents the right to say what information websites can collect about children under 13 years old. They can only give personal information with their parents’ consent.
The FTC already proposed an update of the childrenâ€™s privacy act which would ensure that parents give their permission before children share information with third parties.