Nickelodeon has removed the SpongeBob Diner Dash app from Apple's iTunes after advocacy group The Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) filed a formal complaint with Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The CDD said that the app starring the popular cartoon icon collected email addresses of children without getting parental consent. In its complaint the CDD urged the FTC to investigate Nickelodeon and mobile game-maker PlayFirst's privacy practices, pointing out that their "deceptive" mobile marketing technologies violated the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
"The SpongeBob Diner Dash game asks children to provide a wide range of personal information, including full name, email address, and other online contact information, without providing notice to parents or obtaining prior parental consent, as required by the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act," a statement from the group read. "Nor does the app provide an adequate description of the personal information it collects or how it is used."
The group went on to say in its complaint that the app's use of unique device identifiers (UDIDs) allowed companies to send "push notifications" that required online contact information from users – in this case children. Such info is considered personal information under the COPPA rules.
SpongeBob Diner Dash app is free to download, but is a free-to-play game that encourages young players to buy virtual coins that can be used to buy items for SpongeBob, or purchase an upgraded version of the game.
Laura Moy, a lawyer at Georgetown Law's Institute for Public Representation prepared the complaint on behalf of the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD). She said that "Nickelodeon tells parents that it complies with the law protecting children's privacy when it does not."