McDonald's Changes Controversial "Refer-A-Friend" Policy that led to our COPPA complaint

Last August,  a coalition of child health, consumer and privacy groups asked the FTC to investigate the use of so-called "Refer-A-Friend" viral branded marketing tactics designed to encourage kids to provided the email addresses of their friends--a violation we believe of the children's online privacy law--COPPA.  The idea that leading companies would work to bypass--and undermine--parental role is disturbing.  Among the companies engaging in those practices explained the complaint included McDonald's, General Mills, Subway, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network.  In addition to soliciting email addresses, McDonald's also pitched kids to have their photos taken which were uploaded--and viewable by the public--online.

McDonald's has seen the error of it ways and release the statement below.  But we are concerned that it took a threat of regulatory action about McDonald's violation of the federal privacy law protecting kids 12 and under (COPPA--the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act--) for it to act.  We are glad McDonald's recognized it had seriously placed kids information at risk.  However, this incident hows 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. 

Here's the statement:

October 19, 2012



"Rest assured, the online security of our guests - especially our youngest guests - remains a top priority for us. McDonald’s places high importance upon the protection of privacy, including children’s on-line privacy.

The website has offered forward-to-a-friend options that allowed users to email ecards, links and photos to friends and family.  We continuously review and enhance our sites as appropriate and we recently made some updates to, including removing theforward-to-a-friend options.

As always, we welcome the opportunity to improve and remain focused on ways to further enhance our web sites."

Heather Oldani, Spokesperson

McDonald’s USA

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