Disney subsidiary disclosed kids’ personal information

An online virtual world company owned by Walt Disney has been ordered to pay $3 million after it was found to have collected and disclosed personal information on more than a million children.

Playdom, bought by Walt Disney last year, operated 20 virtual world websites where users could access online games and other activities.

While many were aimed at a general audience, at least one, Pony Stars, was specifically targeted at children. Between 2006 and 2010, says the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), around 403,000 children registered on the company’s general audience sites. Another 821,000 signed up for Pony Stars.

And, without parents’ permission, Playdom collected the kids’ ages and email addresses during registration – and then enabled children to publicly post their full names, email addresses, instant messenger IDs, location and more on personal profile pages and in online community forums.

This despite the fact that the company’s privacy policy promised that it it wouldn’t allow children to post personal information, and that FTC rules, known as COPPA, require companies to gain parents’ consent before gathering the information in the first place.

“Let’s be clear: Whether you are a virtual world, a social network, or any other interactive site that appeals to kids, you owe it to parents and their children to provide proper notice and get proper consent,” says FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz.

“It’s the law, it’s the right thing to do, and, as today’s settlement demonstrates, violating COPPA will not come cheap.”

Playdom took ownership of the websites when it acquired the sites’ original developer, Acclaim Games, in May 2010 – but continued to operate them in the same waye after the merger.