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Consumer Watchdog has joined the Center for Digital Democracy and eight other organizations in asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate and take enforcement action against the Topps Company for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

The complaint, which was prepared for the 10 groups by Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Public Representation, centers around Candymania.com and a social media campaign to promote Ring Pops, a candy targeted at kids. Topps is owned by former Disney CEO Michael Eisner.  Topps encouraged kids to post photos of themselves wearing a Ring Pop in its #RockThatRock contest.  Winners’ photos were included in a video made by the tween band R5. A number of the photos used by Topps in the video are clearly from kids under 13.

Angela J. Campbell, Co-Director of the Institute for Public Representation said Topps violated  updated COPPA rules in two significant ways. First, Topps collected photographs of young children, even though the FTC decided to include photographs within the definition of “personal information” requiring parental notice and collection due to the privacy and safety concerns. Second, Topps used social media to collect and post children’s personal information from which Topps reaps commercial benefits

The groups’ complaint said Topps also violated  COPPA by failing to post its children’s privacy policy in a prominent manner, failing to provide a complete and understandable privacy policy, conditioning a child’s participation in the contest on disclosing more information than was reasonably necessary, and retaining children’s personal information for longer than reasonably necessary. Topps also used information it collected like Twitter “handles” to contact the kids without parental notification.

Other organizations joining the complaint include the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, and United Church of Christ.

My colleague at CDD, Jeff Chester described the situation: “Topps and its partners cynically sought to bypass COPPA’s key safeguard that parents must first be told about a company’s data collection practices before their child’s information is gathered. This is a textbook study of how online marketers are so eager to use Facebook and other social media to promote their products to friends and even strangers, they ignore this key law designed to protect consumer privacy online.”

The FTC needs to take clear and decisive action to stop this abuse and demonstrate it is serious about enforcing update COPPA rules.