McDonald’s removes networking features in some online games

October 22, 2012

McDonald’s said it has removed social networking features in some of its online games after a privacy advocacy group complained to federal regulators that the restaurant chain was violating child online privacy laws.

In a complaint filed last August to the Federal Trade Commission, the Center for Digital Democracy said McDonald’s was using a “tell-a-friend” feature on games and other functions of HappyMeal.com and McWorld.com that asked children to upload photos and videos onto the site and then pass along that information to friends. McDonald’s also asked for children to list the e-mail addresses of friends, without gathering parental consent for that information.

The practice, CDD said, was a form of deceptive viral marketing that violates the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. By collecting information such as e-mail addresses, McDonald’s wasn’t adequately disclosing its collection of personal data and didn’t ask for parents’ permission.

McDonald’s said in a statement Friday that it has scrapped the “forward-to-a-friend” options that “allowed users to e-mail ecards, links and photos to friends and family.”

“Rest assured, the online security of our guests — especially our youngest guests — remains a top priority for us,” said Danya Proud, a spokesperson for McDonalds. “We continuously review and enhance our sites as appropriate and we recently made some updates to HappyMeal.com, including removing the forward-to-a-friend options.”

The changes reflect a growing debate over online privacy protections for children as the FTC tries to update its children’s online privacy rules.

On the HappyMeal.com site, McDonald’s features 30 games for children. The FTC is considering new rules that would make third-party partners responsible for illegally collecting information about young children. That could include a company’s use of “like” buttons from Facebook and “tweet” buttons for Twitter.

CDD Executive Director Jeff Chester urged regulators to toughen privacy laws.

“It took a complaint to get the company to realize that it wasn’t respecting either the privacy of its young users or their parents,” Chester said. “McDonald’s actions illustrate why the FTC must do a better job enforcing COPPA’s requirements, and why the commission’s proposed updates to cover new privacy threats to kids — such as mobile tracking of kids — should be adopted.”

Related:

Web site operator fined $1 million for illegally collecting data on children

Facebook mulls lowering age restriction

Web giants protest updates to child privacy laws

Cecilia Kang is a staff writer covering the business of media and entertainment.
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