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New Mexico AG Sues Rovio for COPPA Violations
THE BIG PICTURE
The New Mexico Attorney General claims that Rovio violates COPPA and state privacy laws.
On August 25, 2021, the New Mexico Attorney General sued Rovio, the Angry Birds developer, for COPPA violations. The suit alleges that Rovio directs Angry Birds towards minors and as such must comply with COPPA and state privacy laws. The suit also alleges that Rovio fails to comply with the relevant laws because it provides third parties with device identifying information constituting minors’ personally identifiable information.
COPPA (The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) protects the information of children under the age of 13. COPPA applies to website operators and service providers who either direct their services towards children under the age of 13 or who have actual knowledge that they have personal information from children under the age of 13. COPPA requires services providers to obtain parental consent when collecting minors’ personal information as well as providing a privacy notice detailing how personal information will be used among other requirements. The COPPA statute identifies some factors to consider to determine if a website or service is directed towards minors and those include:
its subject matter, visual content, use of animated characters or child-oriented activities and incentives, music or other audio content, age of models, presence of child celebrities or celebrities who appeal to children, language or other characteristics of the Web site or online service, as well as whether advertising promoting or appearing on the Web site or online service is directed to children
DIRECTED TOWARDS MINORS
The suit alleges that Rovio “aggressively directs” Angry Birds to minors through:
Angry Birds’ E (Everyone) Google Rating - pointing out that Google’s rubric for determining a game’s rating looks at some of the same factors as the COPPA statute;
Angry Birds’ silly, cartoonish animated characters (image below from Complaint):
Rovio’s marketing campaign that included toys and merchandise directed to young children (including plush toys, coloring books, and children’s puzzles, baby blankets, children’s Halloween costumes, etc.);
Market research showing addictive play by children;
Cartoons and films marketed towards children; and
Rovio’s own words from its website:
Kids love playing our games! We strive to create fun and engaging games that people of all ages can enjoy, and we’re totally jazzed that so many young kids gravitate towards our titles. Thank you parents for allowing your children to enjoy our games!
Under our Terms of Service, you represent that you are at least 13 years of age. However, we do not know the specific age of individual users of our Services. If you are under 13 years of age, please do not provide your personal data (including your name, address, telephone number, or email address) to us or use the Services to make your personal data available to others.
The COPPA statute defines personal information to include “any other identifier that the Commission determines permits the physical or online contacting of a specific individual.” The suit states that the Angry Birds apps collect device identifiers to “track children over time and across apps, devices, and websites” and that this information is shared with advertising companies to create user profiles and serve third-party advertising.
Game companies should beware when having games or ancillary content heavily directed towards children. Privacy policies disclaiming information from minors will most likely not cut it with government regulators.