App Maker Accused of Tracking Data About Kids

(CN) – New Mexico’s attorney general filed a federal lawsuit claiming the maker of a children’s gaming app sends kids’ location, demographic and other personal information to advertisers without parental consent, risking their safety and violating their privacy.

In an 85-page complaint filed Tuesday in Albuquerque federal court, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas accuses Lithuania-based app maker Tiny Lab Productions and its contracted advertisers of violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, New Mexico’s Unfair Business Practices Act and the Federal Trade Commission Act.

The advertising partners include Google and Twitter, both of which are named as defendants.

According to the complaint, forensic testing revealed numerous Tiny Lab apps failed to obtain explicit, verifiable parental consent to collect data from children under the age of 13 and did not give notice of the data collection and its use or ensure protection of the data.

“This conduct endangers the children of New Mexico, undermines the ability of their parents to protect children and their privacy, and violates state and federal law,” the lawsuit states.

The personal information allegedly collected included geolocation data, which can reveal the precise location of the child using the app, and identifiers which provide information that can be “reasonably” connected to a specific child, such as their behaviors, demographics and preferences.

“While children and their parents think that the Tiny Lab gaming apps games are innocent, online games—the digital equivalent of puzzles, blocks, or books – defendants have embedded coding in the apps that allows them to exfiltrate children’s data as they play,” the complaint states.

According to the lawsuit, the apps use coding called software development kits that send the child’s data to advertisers, which then use it to track and profile the child for targeted advertising.

AG Balderas argues the companies profit from the data collection at the expense of the privacy of the child, who also has a harder time differentiating between advertisements and content.

He also claims Google misled users by allowing the apps in the family section of its online store, giving the false impression that they adhere to child privacy policies.

The lawsuit references 91 Tiny Lab apps designed to be played by minors, including “Fun Kid Racing,” “Candy Land Racing,” “Baby Toilet Race: Cleanup Fun,” and “GummyBear and Friends Speed Racing.”

Balderas seeks a permanent injunction ordering the companies to cease the allegedly unlawful tracking practices and destroy any improperly obtained personal data. He also wants nominal and punitive damages along with civil penalties.

The attorney general said in a statement, “These apps can track where children live, play, and go to school with incredible precision. These multi-million-dollar tech companies partnering with app developers are taking advantage of New Mexican children, and the unacceptable risk of data breach and access from third parties who seek to exploit and harm our children will not be tolerated in New Mexico.”

Tiny Lab CEO Jonas Abromaitis said in a statement Thursday that the company has “taken all measures available to us to protect privacy of young players.”

“Tiny Lab has always aimed to be make fun and safe games playable by wide audiences – from younger children, to teens and adults,” he said. “We view ourselves as a socially responsible company and take privacy very seriously. We use industry wide practices and publicly available guidelines issued by government to ensure the privacy and safety of players under 13 years old.”

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