A class action lawsuit alleging that Disney and Viacom unlawfully scrape data from child video game players will proceed, per a California federal judge’s recent decision. U.S. District Judge James Donato allowed the data scraping class action lawsuit to proceed, nixing a dismissal bid by Disney, Viacom, and others. The judge eliminated some claims, but preserved most of the allegations in the Disney, Viacom class action lawsuit. Ring of Fire’s Farron Cousins discusses this with Scott Hardy from Top Class Actions.


*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.

Farron Cousins:                  Recently a US district judge ruled against Disney and Viacom who were trying to have a lawsuit dismissed claiming that the two companies were actually scraping data from children while they were playing video games. The judge did not bye the arguments being sold by Disney and Viacom and said, nope, this case is going to proceed. Joining me now to talk about what this case is all about is Scott Hardy from Top Class Actions. So Scott, as I just mentioned, the judge says it can proceed. It involves data scraping from children. Lay this one out for us because this does not sound good for either of these companies.

Scott Hardy:                          Well you have to take a look at a lot of these games and of course most of these children’s games start out as free and a lot of these games are built on the freemium model where you get it for free. But if you want to proceed pass a certain level or you want to get the extra special wigs or clothes or different accoutrements within the game, you buy coins, jewels, that kind of thing with real money that you can use in game. And that’s how a lot of these video companies make money.

But then you have to stop and think, well, a lot of these companies got nailed for privacy violations because they’re targeting children. So they had to clean up their act supposedly and not be tracking and selling data about children to different marketers. But then some of these games are still making in hundreds of millions of dollars a year. So how are they getting that money? Well, sure they’re probably making some money on that freemium model by selling claims or trinkets, whatever in game.

But now we’re finding through these data scraping class actions that the games are still taking a look at what kids are doing within the game and selling that to different groups and marketing companies and even probably other gaming manufacturers so they know what to do to get more interaction from children. And that’s what these class actions are targeting is they’re saying, hey, you guys already said you weren’t going to be targeting children and you weren’t going to be storing private data and use data about children.

But we have a number of different games, and by different manufacturers and games like Subway Surfers and a Beauty and the Beast game and Lama Spit Spit that kids are playing that these class actions are alleging that they’re, these manufacturers are scraping the use and they’re tracking how these kids are playing these games and selling that data, allegedly illegally.

Farron Cousins:                  And what’s happened according to this lawsuit is that they actually, you know, they put the code into the game itself. You know, Viacom is putting the code there. Disney is putting the code into the games because these Disney sponsored games, anybody with kids and an iPad knows that you have to buy the actual Disney apps, not the knock offs. And so they’re alleging that it’s the companies themselves putting these data scraping codes into the game, that steal, essentially yes steal the data from these children.

And you and I have talked about multiple different cases involving, oh, they’re taking our data here. They’re doing this with it. They’re selling it. And that’s bad enough. But, but when you get to the point where you have games designed for children, marketed to children that are stealing the data of children, I mean, we have just passed this on to a whole new generation at this point. Right? I mean this is a generation that throughout their lives, if this doesn’t stop, they may never know what privacy actually is. Right?

Scott Hardy:                          Exactly, and you’ve got big companies like Viacom and Disney and Disney is trusted and loved by millions of families around the globe. So they expect that if I’m getting a game and downloading a game that is owned in part or produced in part by Disney, that the usage, my child’s usage of that game is safe, won’t be tracked, won’t be sold to third parties. Well, at least according to these class actions, some Disney executives are saying, oh well we still got to make a lot of money on this.

So sorry, that data about your kids isn’t safe. And like you said, these kids are never going to know what that true protection is. You know, they’re so connected through their apps and their iPads and their iPods and they just, it’s not something that they would really consider. Kids growing up will just automatically think, yeah, I’m getting tracked by the Internet. So what. And you know, we really have to make sure that they understand how this puts them at risk for, you know, predatory behavior, not just by companies but by adults.

Farron Cousins:                  Absolutely, and you know that, that’s the other part of it too, is we can’t let them just become desensitized to it. Thinking that, oh yeah, no, no, no, no. I, I’ve, I’ve been tracked by my whole life, you know, because yeah, you’re going to have a predator that also knows how to code, creates an APP that kids love, but they can use it to track where they are. You know, find out where this kid goes every day and then do something unspeakable. That is not out of the realm of possibility by any stretch of the imagination and the way to combat this first and foremost is these lawsuits.

Because right now that’s all we’ve got. You know, we’ve had a couple ideas kicked around in Washington DC, you know, we need to do something about this, we need to come up with a plan, we have to pass legislation, we need a government agency to regulate it. And those are great ideas. Unfortunately none of them have come to fruition. So right now these lawsuits really our best tools aren’t they?

Scott Hardy:                          They are and of course right now the administration is very big corporation, trillion dollar corporation friendly. So anything that could regulate and put any kind of privacy regulations in place that protects consumers is going to get thrown out the window by this, by the current administration. They’re not looking after consumer’s best rights. They’re looking after their donors. They’re big Super PACs and the big corporation’s rights, to make money off of the backs of you, the consumer. And so don’t expect to be saved by the government in any way, shape or form. We have to have these lawyers that are going to go out there and litigate through these cases to try to protect consumers.

Farron Cousins:                  Right and anybody, you know, I know a lot of people sometimes I say, well, this is a frivolous lawsuit. You know, these are ambulance chasers. No, trust me. The lawyers who are willing to go out there and say, oh, you know, Disney took your kids’ data. Yeah, I will take that corporation on. That is the height of bravery going against one of the largest corporations on the planet and saying to them, in court, your stealing the data from children.

That’s not ambulance chasing. That is a level of courage that most people on this planet will never be able to experience. For more information on this story, follow the link in the description of this video. Head on over to Top Class Actions and make sure while you’re there that you sign up for their weekly newsletter. It is the best tool available for American consumers. Scott Hardy with Top Class Actions. Always a pleasure talking to you.

Scott Hardy:                          Great talking to you as well Farron. Thanks for your time.

Farron Cousins is the executive editor of The Trial Lawyer magazine and a contributing writer at DeSmogBlog.com. He is the co-host / guest host for Ring of Fire Radio. His writings have appeared on Alternet, Truthout, and The Huffington Post. Farron received his bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of West Florida in 2005 and became a member of American MENSA in 2009. Follow him on Twitter @farronbalanced