The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) enlists parents in controlling what information companies collect from children online with assistance from the Federal Trade Commission’s enacted regulations. COPPA is codified as 15 United States Code §§ 6501-6506. The Better Business Bureau National Programs’ Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) acts as a watchdog sniffing out violations and fashioning corrective actions.
In July 2022, CARU identified the company Outright Games as a violator of COPPA and CARU’s Self-Regulatory Guidelines for Advertising and Guidelines for Children’s Online Privacy Protection. Outright Games, founded in 2001 with the debut of 10-inch fashion dolls called Bratz, captured the tween market, aged 8 to 12. The company then expanded with the Bratz Fashion Makeover app. The Bratz dolls were the brainchild of former Mattel employee Carter Bryant, who was designing clothes for Barbie dolls when he came up with the more contemporary and inclusive Bratz dolls.
CARU found that the Bratz Total Fashion Makeover app was directed at children and subject to child privacy guidelines because of the makeover subject, visuals, lively colors, snappy audio, and gameplay interaction.
Children using the app could easily change their age whenever they chose, allowing them to circumvent protections meant for children, who at even younger than 13 could then make in-app purchases, participate in social media as someone older, and receive advertising messages targeted to older users.
In addition, Outright Games’ privacy notice violated COPPA and CARU’s guidelines because it was confusing and incomplete.
CARU disclosed that the Outright Games’ app violated advertising guidelines because it ran ads that could not be halted until the user had viewed the entire ad; the ads the company ran failed to alert users they would have to view the entire ad; and the ads were inappropriate and unsafe for children.
Outright Games reacted to the findings by agreeing to take corrective action, including:
Bratz is a widely popular franchise that includes video games, a TV series, interactive DVDs, and other entertainment venues owned by MGA Entertainment. It grosses billions of dollars annually and even rivals Mattel’s Barbie in sales.
The legal issues surrounding the Bratz app include a dispute over design rights, in which MGA prevailed. MGA has also alleged that Mattel trade.
This legal episode could have repercussions for app or game designers who wish to protect their creative work. It also opens up discussions about the potential for the online exploitation of children when companies ignore privacy guidelines and manipulate children into purchases through targeted advertising without their parent’s consent.
The Federal Trade Commission requires commercial websites and online sites targeting children younger than 13 to notify their parents of their information practices, obtain parental consent for collecting or using such information, and allow parents to stop the process. These sites must also give parents access to their children’s information, collect only the information necessary for children to participate in the online activity, and ensure privacy in the process.