McDonalds Wants Your Child’s Personal Data

If my teenage son Charlie (he’s autistic with many cognitive challenges) could read, I would be that nosey mom constantly checking on what he was up to online and all the more so after learning that McDonald’s, General Mills and other companies are being accused of collecting data about children through their websites.

On Wednesday, a coalition of nearly 20 children’s advocacy, health and public interest groups reportedly filed at least five separate complaints with the Federal Trade Commission alleging that McDonald’s, General Mills, the Cartoon Network, Subway and Nickolodeon are in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Under this law, website operators must obtain “verifiable consent” from parents before being able to collect personal information about children under age 13.

The websites noted in the complaints are,,,,, and

According to the complaints, these child-targeted websites violate COPPA though “refer-a-friend” campaigns in which children, after playing a brand-related online game or other activity, are asked to provide the email addresses of friends, who then receive emails encouraging them to try the same activity. That is, the children playing the brand-related activities are — it sounds rather insidious, it is insidious — being made unwitting parties in providing the companies with personal data of other children, without the parental consent of those children.

In SFGate, General Mills spokesman Tony Forsythe says oh no, they’re not violating any federal laws. COPPA, he says, “permits send-to-a-friend e-mails provided the sending friend’s e-mail address or full name is never collected and the recipient’s e-mail address is purged immediately following the sending of the message.” Subway also claims to be in compliance and Turner Broadcasting, a co-owner of the Cartoon Network, tell SFGate that it is reviewing the allegations. The other companies did not respond to SFGate‘s inquiries.

The Center for Digital Democracy led in filing the complaints; other members of the coalition are Public Citizen, the Consumer Federation of America, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale.

As Laura Moy, a Center for Digital Democracy lawyer, says in the New York Times, “It really shows that companies are doing an end run around a law put in place to protect children’s privacy.”

Indeed they are. SFGate calls “refer-a-friend” campaigns a “form of viral marketing.” Maybe the companies really do “purge” the email addresses of recipients. But in the meantime, that email has been sent to another child, who is asked not only to play some brand-related game but also to refer another friend who then gets an email “inviting” them to play said game and refer another friend and so on.

As Lori Dorfman, director of the Berkeley Media Studies Group, says, “Most of these multinational companies are selling sugar, basically, and they’re marketing directly to kids.” Moreover, they’re getting kids to help them market their name-brand sugar to other kids.

The FTC is seeking to update children’s privacy laws to keep up with the latest developments in technology. The five complaints filed should be a wake-up call for the FTC to take action, and soon, to protect our children’s privacy.


Related Care2 Coverage

Step Away From the Computers, Says Silicon Valley

Do Kids Deserve Privacy Online?

Kids 13 & Under Could Join Facebook Soon: What Are the Risks?

Photo by Karl Palutke


Valentina R.
Valentina R5 years ago

I don't care if you eat meat, but please, don't eat it at McDonald's. It's not even real meat. Instead, bring your kids to eat hormones-free, ethically-raised farm animals... or, better yet, make him a delicious, healthy vegetarian pie.

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago

kids under thirteen don't need to be on computers unsupervised anyway

Alice Almeida
Alice Almeida5 years ago

thanks for the info

Jane R.
Jane R5 years ago

I think this is wrong, but it's just advertising. Do these children watch TV? If so they see these commercials promoting these product everyday. If it's just a game they can play after seeing an ad, what's the harm? You are the one in charge of what they eat and drink, not a commercial!!

Meris M.
Meris Michaels5 years ago

Another evil of computer technology - nowadays, with children using smartphones etc. to access the Internet and play games, even more kids - younger than 13 - will be targeted to provide personal data, and companies like McDonald's will be able to spread their advertising.

a             y m.
g d c5 years ago


Loo Samantha
Loo sam5 years ago


Amanda M.
Amanda M5 years ago

Another excellent reason to avoid fast-food places! And people wonder why I actually BLOCK channels such as Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon-it's not just the constant bombardment of commercials for junk food and junk toys on top of insipid and non-educational programming, but now I also have to worry about Big Corporate targeting and spamming my kids! BLECCH!

And this is on top of reading "Fast Food Nation" a couple of weeks ago and seeing how factory conditions in the places that make our fast food, both in the factories and in the restaurants themselves, would have Upton Sinclair breakdancing in his grave!

To quote Pink Floyd: "LEAVE THEM KIDS ALONE!"

Michael C.
Michael C5 years ago

Hey, it is part of their company policy, think...from cradle to grave. Once they get you as a kid, they have you and your children for life.

Randi Levin
Randi Levin5 years ago

Sorry guys but that is what happens when youu give a child a laptop before skills develop in deciphering what to do and what not to do!

Blame yourself not Macd's. You gave them the laptop so that they can enter such info---hence blame yourself!