Viacom, toy makers to stop online child tracker

Children's privacy cited by N.Y. Attorney General

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Children visiting websites for SpongeBob SquarePants, Barbie and other popular children’s brands no longer will have their personal data illegally tracked for marketing purposes under a deal between New York’s top cop and four companies, including Viacom and Mattel.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Tuesday that a two-year probe of the companies, including Hasbro and Jumpstart Games, found they violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. The companies used technology that allowed third-party vendors to collect and use personal information from children under the age of 13 without parental approval, Schneiderman said in a statement.

The investigation “revealed that some of our nation’s biggest companies failed to protect kids’ privacy,” Schneiderman said. “Federal law demands that children are off-limits to the prying eyes of advertisers.”

The probe, which Schneiderman said is the first of its kind in the United States, covered sites for Viacom’s Nick Jr. and Nickelodeon brands; Mattel’s Barbie, Hot Wheels, and American Girl toys; Hasbro’s My Little Pony, Littlest Pet Shop, and Nerf; and JumpStart’s Neopets, a virtual pet community it purchased from Viacom in 2014.

The companies will pay $835,000 in total as part of the agreement.

Schneiderman began his investigation after discovering that websites operated by the companies enabled marketers to track so-called persistent identifiers, such as cookies and IP addresses, that can be used to recognize a specific user over time and across websites, according to the statement.

Julie Duffy, a spokeswoman for Hasbro, said the Pawtucket, R.I.-based company cooperated fully with the investigation and is committed to protecting the privacy of its website audience.

“We will be more closely vetting and monitoring companies that work on our behalf,” Duffy said in a statement. “We are rolling out a new, stricter online privacy protection policy for our partners, and enacting new protocols and technology to scan our digital properties for any cookies, widgets or other applications that may violate our policy.”

All the companies agreed to similar reforms, according to Schneiderman’s statement.

Messages left with press representatives for the other companies weren’t immediately returned.

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