Apple's App Store, Google's Android Market, and the app developers themselves aren't providing enough information on what data the apps are collecting about children, claims a damning report by the Federal Trade Commission.
The report, called 'Mobile Apps For Kids: Current Privacy Disclosures are Dis-app-ointing' [PDF], Google, Apple and developers aren't doing enough to inform consumers about what data apps collect, and what happens to that data. The FTC is particularly concerned about children's privacy, and focused specifically on apps targeting kids.
The FTC examined 480 apps from each store pulled up by the search term 'kids' and scoured the app landing pages and developer's websites for information on what data the apps collected. FTC staff were was disturbed by what they discovered [emphasis added]:
The survey findings regarding data collection and sharing were of greatest concern to FTC staff. Indeed, across the wide range of “kids” apps examined in the survey, staff found very little information about the data collection or sharing practices of these apps.
In most instances, staff was unable to determine from the information on the app store page or the developer’s landing page whether an app collected any data, let alone the type of data collected, the purpose for such collection, and who collected or obtained access to such data.
The FTC's conclusions are pretty clear:
Parents should be able to learn, before downloading an app for their children, what data will be collected, how the data will be used, and who will obtain access to the data.
And developers had better take note, because the FTC has already starting to take action against developers:
Since collecting the data for this survey, the FTC settled its first COPPA enforcement action against a mobile app developer and issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to amend the Commission’s COPPA Rule. Those initiatives, along with this report, are a warning call to industry that it must do more to provide parents with easily accessible, basic information about the mobile apps that their children use.
One aspect of apps that wasn't addressed by the FTC was in-app purchasing in apps aimed at kids. I wish it had been, since it seems that there's at least some targeting of children going on, especially when it comes to games. Last year I found that 10 of the fifteen top grossing games on offer in Apple's app store were free (in-app purchases made them top grossing), and I found a 'wagon of Smurfberries' that cost $100 in real money. I'm not opposed to in-app purchasing, but the levels f it available in some games is truly horrifying.
It's a Wild West out there in the app stores, but it seems there's a new sheriff in town.