Topps Company, Trading Card and Candy Company Charged with Violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA); Coalition of Groups Groups Urge FTC to Investigate and Bring Action

Consumer, Child Health, and Privacy Groups Urge Federal Trade Commission to Investigate and Bring Action Against Topps for Violating Children’s Privacy Rights through its Child-directed Website and its #RockThatRock Contest

Washington, DC: The Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), through its counsel the Institute for Public Representation, along with 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, Consumer Watchdog, Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, and United Church of Christ, today asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate and take enforcement action against The Topps Company, Inc., for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) Rule in connection with its child-directed website Candymania and its online contest #RockThatRock.

Topps, a candy and trading-card company owned by former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, uses its child-directed website and social media to promote Ring Pop, a candy that appeals to children. The #RockThatRock contest, which ran in Spring 2014, encouraged children to post photos of themselves wearing Ring Pops on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for a chance to have their photo used in a music video with tween band R5. Of the photographs collected, Topps used several that depicted children clearly under 13 in the video. The video is available on both Candymania and YouTube and has been viewed almost 900,000 times. Long after the contest ended, Topps continued to display children’s photos and contact information submitted using the #RockThatRock hashtag on the Ring Pop Facebook page.

Topps made no effort to provide notice to parents about the information collected or to obtain advance, verifiable parental consent as required by the COPPA Rule. Additionally, Topps violated the COPPA Rule 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 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,” explained Jeff Chester, CDD’s executive director. “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. Companies such as Topps need to carefully review all their digital marketing practices to make sure they are adhering to COPPA, and also are marketing their products in a responsible manner. The FTC must do more, however, to ensure that COPPA is effectively enforced. It must devote more resources to protect the privacy of children, and begin examining contemporary digital data-driven practices more thoroughly.”

Angela J. Campbell, Co-Director of the Institute for Public Representation, which drafted the request, emphasized that “Topps is in violation of provisions of the COPPA Rule that the FTC adopted nearly two years ago to update and strengthen children’s privacy protections,” in two significant ways. First, Topps is collecting 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 is using social media to collect and post children’s personal information from which Topps reaps commercial benefits. The Commission amended the COPPA rule to clarify that a child-directed website was responsible for information collected by third parties on its behalf or from which it benefits. Campbell urged the FTC to take action to show that it is serious about enforcing the updated COPPA Rule.

In addition to the privacy concerns of Topps’ marketing and data-collection practices, this case comes at a time of heightened concern over the health effects of candy and other unhealthy foods on children. Earlier this month, 41 members of the Food Marketing Workgroup (link is external) (including CDD, Center for Science in the Public Interest, and the American Heart Association) wrote five candy companies—including Topps—to ask them to adopt strong policies on food marketing to children. As the groups’ letter points out, “obesity has tripled in children and adolescents over the past decades. Currently, more than one in three children and teens are overweight or obese.”