The SpongeBob Diner Dash game was pulled back from the iTunes App store after complaints regarding privacy rights violation and a misleading promotional campaign. An advocacy group took the initiative of contacting the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) concerning the issues. The main point in the complaint was that the game sought the email addresses of children who wanted to play the game without informing their parents about it.
Nickelodeon was quick to react to the complaint and removed the game from the iTunes app store. The complaint was filed by the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) against what they saw as an ambiguously marketed game which also violated online privacy rights. The game itself was available for free from the store and users could download it on to their iOS devices.
According to the CDD, the game asks for the email IDs of the players. The incentive for providing the contact information is that they will receive a newsletter related to the game in the future. However, they believe that the makers should have at least obtained further contact information such as home address or phone number. This means that the parents of the children providing the email information are not informed.
The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) clearly states that parental consent is a must or that parents must be notified if personal user information is to be obtained from children younger than 13. Keeping this in mind, it does appear as though the CDD have a valid point to file a complaint and that the game was indeed violating the privacy rights of the children. As most people are aware, SpongeBob Squarepants is a cartoon targeted at kids below 13.
In the past, questions have been raised about the implications of the COPPA. Most apps which have been found to contravene the laws stated within have tried to justify their stance by saying their target audience is above 13 years of age. Since the COPPA only applies to children below 13, they often get away scot-free. While the FTC does not have the right to sue the makers of SpongeBob Diner Dash, they can launch an investigation into whether the game actually comprises the online privacy of its players.
This is the second game, following Mobbles, to be removed from the App store following a complaint made against it by the CDD. Nickelodeon is yet to make any comment regarding its stance for the future.
[Image via nick]