On Tuesday December 9th IPR filed, on behalf of the Center for Digital Democracy and a coalition of consumer organizations, a request for investigation with the Federal Trade Commission asking the FTC to investigate and bring enforcement action against The Topps Company, Inc., a candy company, for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by collecting and disclosing photos and screen names from children under the age of thirteen through social media.
Topps is a leading candy manufacturer in the US and makes, among other candies, the iconic lollipop Ring Pop. It operates the child-directed website Candymania to market its candies to children (see below). In spring 2014, Topps ran a contest called #RockThatRock. The premise of the contest was that children would take photos of themselves “rocking” their Ring Pop and upload them to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with the term “#RockThatRock.” Use of the hashtag created a searchable catalog of all social media posts that contained the hashtag. Topps used that catalog to choose certain photos to put into a music video with the tween band R5.
Topps released the music video in June to Candymania and YouTube. The video has been viewed nearly 900,000 times. It includes eighty pictures from the contest, many of which show children that are clearly under the age of thirteen. Topps has continued to use of the photos children submitted even after the contest was over. For example, each Friday, Topps posts a picture along with a screen name on the Ring Pop Facebook page, in a promotion it calls “#RockThatRock Friday.”
Topps’ actions were brought to IPR’s attention by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Camille Fischer, a third year law student in IPR, investigated and drafted the request for investigation. The request alleges that Topps violated, and continues to violate, COPPA in several ways. The COPPA rule prohibits the operators of websites directed to children from collecting, using, or disclosing children’s personal information without giving notice to parents about these practices and obtaining advance, verifiable parental consent. During and after the #RockThatRock contest, Topps collected two types of personal information from children, photographs and online contact information, by encouraging its child users to go to social media and upload pictures of themselves the hashtag #RockThat Rock. Topps collected this personal information without giving any notice to parents about what would be collected and how it would be used. It also made not effort to obtain advance, verifiable consent from parents.
While Topps has denied that it violated the COPPA Rule, it is important to understand that the COPPA Rule was recently amended to prevent an operator of a child-directed website (such as Candymania) from using third party services to collect information from children on that operator’s behalf. Thus, Topps cannot get out of complying with the COPPA Rule by outsourcing the collection of data from its children users to third parties such as Facebook and Twitter. Moreover, even though these social media services are not intended for use by children, many children do in fact use them. This complaint gives the FTC the opportunity to enforce its recent changes to the COPPA Rule and to protect children in the ever-changing privacy landscape.
IPR’s request for investigation has been covered by media outlets, including The New York Times, The Hollywood Reporter, MediaPost, and multiple consumer advocacy blogs. Angela Campbell, director of IPR’s Communications and Technology Section, was featured in MediaPost stating: “You can’t get out of COPPA by outsourcing the collection of data.” Eric Null, clinical teaching fellow at IPR, was also quoted in The Hollywood Reporter discussing his expectations for the complaint.
Ten advocacy groups signed onto the complaint including, The Center for Digital Democracy, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, The Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Watchdog, Consumers Union, The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, and the United Church of Christ Office of Communication, Inc.. IPR has strong ties with many http://thesildenafil.com of these groups, and has filed numerous comments and complaints on their behalf.
Georgetown Law student Camille Fischer helped draft this post.