Consumer advocacy groups say marketing tactics some food and entertainment companies use violate the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.
Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) and 15 other consumer advocacy groups filed a complaint today with Federal Trade Commission and asked the agency to investigate Doctor’s Associates, General Mills, McDonald’s, Turner Broadcasting and Viacom.
CDD says the “refer a friend” online marketing campaign that those companies gear toward children violates the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), because the tactics involve sending unsolicited email to children that are designed to entice them to go to a website.
For example, at McDonald’s HappyMeal.com, if a child makes a personalized music video, he/she is encouraged to submit friends’ names and email addresses so the video can be sent to the friends. The friends receive an email that tells them to visit HappyMeal.com and make their own videos.
Consumer advocacy groups say the refer-a-friend marketing campaign misleads children, because the youths don’t realize that they are generating an advertising message to their friends and that the companies’ practices don’t obtain parental consent for email messages to be sent, both of which violate COPPA, according to Angela Campbell, who is a law professor at Georgetown University.
The websites that the advocacy groups requested the FTC to investigate include Doctor’s Associates’ SubwayKids.com, General Mills’ ReesesPuffs.com and TrixWorld.com, McDonald’s HappyMeal.com, Turner Broadcasting’s CartoonNetwork.com, and Viacom’s Nick.com.
A spokesperson from McDonald’s says the company is in the process of reviewing the complaint. A General Mills spokesperson says that the company’s “refer-a-friend” marketing methods don't violate COPPA. Calls that Consumers Digest made to other the companies weren’t returned.
An FTC spokesperson says FTC will review the complaint, but the spokesperson didn’t indicate whether the agency will investigate.