Faced with the possibility of regulatory action, McDonald's has quietly changed how its Happy Meal website interacts with children. The company eliminated its controversial forward-to-a-friend option, which encouraged kids to email e-cards, links and photos to friends and family.
A complaint filed in August with the Federal Trade Commission by a group of 13 privacy advocates led by the Center for Digital Democracy argued the option bypassed the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, which prohibits websites from emailing children under the age of 13 without their parents' permission.
McDonald's made the changes to the site this month. "Rest assured, the online security of our guests, especially our youngest guests, remains a top priority for us," said McDonald's spokesperson Heather Oldani in a statement. "McDonald's places high importance upon the protection of privacy, including children's online privacy…We continuously review and enhance our sites as appropriate, and we recently made some updates to happymeal.com, including removing the forward-to-a-friend options."
The CDD said it was pleased that McDonald's "recognized the error of its ways," but remained skeptical that the FTC was doing enough to enforce Coppa. McDonald's was one of several companies in the complaint filed with the FTC, including General Mills, Subway, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network.
"We are concerned that it took a threat of regulatory action about McDonald's violation of the federal privacy law protecting kids for it to act," the CDD said in a statement. "However, this incident shows that the FTC is not doing its job to enforce the law when many leading companies focused on children can thumb their nose about protecting their privacy."
The FTC is currently reviewing updates to Coppa and plans to issue its final revisions by the end of the year.