Toy companies Hasbro, Mattel and others agree to stop online child tracking

Four toy companies, including giants Hasbro and Mattel, agreed to pay nearly $1 million in fines for allowing vendors to track children's Internet habits. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI

ALBANY, N.Y., Sept. 14 (UPI) — Four toy companies, including giants Hasbro and Mattel, agreed to pay nearly $1 million in fines for allowing third-party vendors to track children’s internet habits without parental approval.

Viacom and JumpStart games also agreed to pay fines totaling $835,000 in the two-year “Operation Child Tracker” probe that found violations of the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said the companies also agreed to put in place new procedures to protect children from improper tracking in the future. This includes regular electronic scans to monitor for third-party tracking technologies and adopting procedures that will vet third-party data collection practices.

Viacom, Mattel and JumpStart also agreed to give regular reports to the office regarding the results of their scans. Together, the four companies are behind some of the biggest toy brands, including My Little Pony, SpongeBob Squarepants, American Girl and Barbie.

“Federal law demands that children are off-limits to the prying eyes of advertisers,” Schneiderman said in a written statement. “Operation Child Tracker revealed that some of our nation’s biggest companies failed to protect kids’ privacy and shield them from illegal online tracking. My office remains committed to protecting children online and will continue our investigation to hold accountable those who violate the law by tracking children.”

Schneiderman said the probe, the first of its kind in the United States, relates to the use of online behavioral advertisements, which use collected information that includes browsing history and demographics to target ads personalized to users. The 1998 law passed by Congress is intended to protect children from the use of behavioral advertisements.

Viacom and Mattel will pay penalties of $500,000 and $250,000 respectively. JumpStart, maker of Neopets, will pay $85,000. Hasbro, which participated in a U.S.Federal Trade Commission-approved “safe harbor” program but failed to disclose details of a re-marketing program on its Nerf website, will not be fined.

Hasbro spokeswoman Julie Duffy said the Rhode Island-based company is dedicated to protecting its youngest 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.”


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