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Tiny Lab, Google, ad companies accused of violating Children's Online Privacy Protection Act

New Mexico lawsuit alleges companies illegally collected and tracked children's personal information

A New Mexico lawsuit filed earlier this week accuses children's app developer Tiny Lab and multiple advertising companies working with it, including Google and Twitter, of inappropriately collecting and handling children's personal data in violation of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

The lawsuit accuses Tiny Lab Productions of ignoring the Act in the way the advertising in games such as Fun Kid Racing, Candy Land Racing, Baby Toilet Race: Cleanup Fun, and GummyBear and Friends Speed Racing (among others) is handled. According to the complaint, these apps are clearly marketed toward children and even appear in family and children sections on Google Play, yet are collecting data such as location and demographic information and sharing that data to third-parties to build profiles of child users for tailored advertisements.

Allegedly complicit ad companies named in the suit are MoPub, AdMob, AerServ, InMovi PTE, AppLovin, ironSource USA, Twitter, and the games' platform, Google.

A New York Times investigation reports that while Tiny Build and the advertising companies associated with it are the ones targeted in the lawsuit, they are not the only problem. The New York Times did a small-scale review of 20 different children's apps across both Android and iOS and found apps on both stores that potentially violated the Act by sending information to ad tracking companies. The finding was supported by a much larger study done earlier this year of almost 6,000 children's apps on Android.

According to the New York Times, Tiny Lab initially was able to avoid Google's more stringent ad and tracking requirements for games listed as for children on Google Play by listing them instead as family apps and asking players to select their birth year. If the player was under 13, the game would not collect or share location data. Later, however, Google asked Tiny Lab to recategorize a number of its games and change its ads and tracking to comply with requirements for children's games. Tiny Lab complied with multiple requests, but its account and games were removed from Google Play earlier this week.

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Latest comments (1)

Drew Crecente Executive Director, Jennifer Ann's Group10 days ago
It's great to see companies are finally be held to account for these shady practices. Ironically, our games that have no privacy issues / no ads have not been allowed in any "family" or "children" app store sections.

Our games are all small but serious games about issues affecting young people: consent, dating abuse, healthy relationships ( and are all free, here's our games on Apple's App Store: https://itunes.apple.com/us/developer/jennifer-anns-group/id897300941?mt=8 )

Although these are serious topics several of them are appropriate for all ages but we can't convince the App Stores of their suitability as a "family" or "children" app; meanwhile, as discussed here, many of the very popular games in those sections are clearly engaging in COPPA violations. It makes me wonder if popular money-making games have more influence with the app stores . . . (jk, obviously they do!)

Hopefully this action in New Mexico indicates a willingness to get serious about marketing to kids in the app stores.

(And then hopefully the app stores will recognize that just because we are covering serious topics that doesn't mean they aren't necessarily inappropriate for kids!)
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