iOS, Android and developers not doing enough to protect kid's privacy

iOS, Android and developers not doing enough to protect kid's privacy

Summary: FTC describes current privacy disclosures are 'Dis-app-ointing.'

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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.

Topics: Security, Android, Apple, Google, Hardware, Legal, Mobile OS, Mobility, Smartphones

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7 comments
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  • Here is a simple fact

    iOS, Android and other mobile devices aren't designed or targeted for kids (except for the sexual predator friendly MS Kin). It is the responsibility of the parents to monitor what the kids are doing when they go online not just when using a mobile device but also when they are in front of a PC.

    Last I checked, the different App stores/marketplaces required a credit card and a password protected account to do anything beyond browsing. Since kids don't technically qualify for credit, I don't see why any company (of any type, not just mobile OSs) should invest time and money trying to implement some privacy policy that is specific to kids.

    One thing is having a policy that protects the user (any user of any age), another is complaining about kids .... on something that a kid should not be using without adult supervision (with direct adult permission).
    wackoae
    • RE: iOS, Android and developers not doing enough to protect kid's privacy

      @wackoae
      What the FTC is saying is that there is insufficient information available about these apps so that parents can make an informed decision on behalf of their child. It is true that the devs should disclose data collection policies on ALL apps, but especially those targeted at children. I applaud the FTC for finally getting involved and showing some teeth.
      lippidp
      • Here is a simple logical idea .....

        @lippidp .... if a product does not meet your standards (of whatever) ... DON'T BUY IT OR INSTALL IT.

        Again, it is the RESPONSIBILITY OF THE PARENTS to monitor what the kids are doing or using.
        wackoae
      • RE: iOS, Android and developers not doing enough to protect kid's privacy

        @lippidp Here's the thing - on my iPhone I have to enter a password in to download something even if it's an update to an app I already have installed. On my Android phone I do not have a password however on BOTH I do have to have a payment means on file. IF the kid has their parent's password there is a problem. IF a young child has his or her own smartphone and can get apps unsupervised there is a much larger problem and both problems can be summed up in 2 words: Parental Responsibility. And there is an old saying: When in doubt, throw it out... in other words if one is not sure what data is being collected then one should not get the app.
        athynz
    • RE: iOS, Android and developers not doing enough to protect kid's privacy

      @wackoae I agree. The parents have the first line of responsibility, so it should be up to them to ensure that their kids aren't downloading willy nilly and they should be taking responsibility for the apps they download for their children.

      Parenting by proxy is not parenting. The app stores and developers should not be made responsible for poor parenting.

      That said, they should provide clearer information on the general privacy implications of their apps for ALL users.
      wright_is
  • RE: iOS, Android and developers not doing enough to protect kid's privacy

    I have to agree with wackoae, at some point the Parents have to be responsible for their kids... I mean, we cannot afford, as a nation, to police everything.
    slickjim
  • It's Kids' privacy, not kid's.

    The headline says that only one kid has privacy problems. Has grammar gone out the window?
    googam