Illegal Tracking

Companies Settle with New York to Stop Tracking Children Online


Hasbro, which makes the My Little Pony website, is among the companies that have illegally allowed children's viewing habits to be tracked online.

dean bertoncelj /

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has reached settlements with four major companies, blocking them from using tracking technology on their popular children’s websites.

The settlements require that Viacom, Mattel and Jumpstart pay penalties totaling $835,000 following an investigation dubbed Operation Child Tracker, according to WABC-TV, the attorney general’s media site and other news sources. The two-year investigation found that the companies violated a 1998 federal law, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, that prohibits unauthorized collection of children’s personal information on websites aimed at users under 13.

“What we found, frankly, was shocking,” Schneiderman said during a press conference this week. “Many of the sites that are home to our most popular TV shows and toys were littered with technology that can be used to track every move a child makes on that site.”

Schneiderman said each site allowed tracking technology such as cookies on their websites in violation of the law. Such technology can be used by marketers and advertisers.

“Federal law demands that children are off-limits to the prying eyes of advertisers,” Schneiderman said. “Operation Child Tracker revealed that some of our nation’s biggest companies failed to protect kids’ privacy and shield them from illegal online tracking.”

The websites in question include Viacom’s Nick Jr. and Nickelodeon; Mattel’s Barbie, Hot Wheels and American Girl; JumpStart’s Neopets; and Hasbro’s My Little Pony, Littlest Pet Shop and Nerf. JumpStart is a developer of educational and entertainment software and websites for children.

“We used to worry about our children wandering into bad neighborhoods,” Schneiderman said during the press conference. “Now our children live online, and we have to police the internet as we seek to police our streets.”

Hasbro said it cooperated with investigators and will closely monitor companies working on its behalf, and that it is rolling out a stricter online privacy protection policy.

Mattel said it takes online privacy and security seriously. Viacom and JumpStart did not reply to requests for comment.

All four companies signed agreements to regularly scan their children’s websites to screen advertisers’ or others’ data collection practices to ensure legal compliance and update their privacy policies. Penalties are $500,000 for Viacom, $250,000 for Mattel and $85,000 for JumpStart. Hasbro participated in an FTC-approved “safe harbor” program and will not pay a penalty, according to the attorney general’s office.

The New York investigation is continuing with other children’s websites.

About the Author

Richard Chang is associate editor of THE Journal. He can be reached at [email protected].