The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have warned Google Inc., Apple Inc. and their vendors that more must be done to ensure the privacy of children using their devices and services.
Privacy is an incredibly hot topic at the moment, and rightly so. The expansion of mobile device use and the surge in app markets have brought to light many issues that stem from downloading third-party software -- including iOS developers having a 'quiet understanding' that it is acceptable to harvest information from user address books and store the data away for use in the future.
However, it is not only individual developers that are under scrutiny. Path's similar address book harvesting practices recently faced a media storm, and now giants Google and Apple are under the watchful eyes of trade commissioners.
Children are using mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones more extensively, and at a younger age. A recent survey by Nielsen found that out of households with tablet devices, 70 percent of children were granted access to use them for games and educational purposes.
However, they cannot be expected to have a strong understanding of privacy rulings -- so what is being done to protect their data from misuse, and is enough being done to inform parents clearly about what their children's data may be used for?
The FTC conducted a survey (.pdf) which found that current privacy disclosures by developers of applications aimed at children were 'disappointing'. The commission came to the conclusion that many apps out of the diverse range available do not disclose clear, understandable information about how data is collected, how it may be used, or where it may be stored or shared.
In "most instances", according to the report, the commission could not discover how data is collected or stored by an application on its promotional pages in app stores.
As a result, the FTC view the report's findings and the recent FTC suit against an app developer as "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."
While application designers may have good intentions, the FTC has urged them, app stores and corporate developers to tighten up their privacy policies. The commission is urging developers in particular to create simple disclosures that parents can access to explain data collection and use in a consistent, uniform manner. It has also suggested that Google and Apple make clear privacy and data disclosure required of their developers.
The Center for Digital Democracy has also said that app store providers must do better:
"Both Google and Apple, the two leading mobile app companies, must do a much better job protecting children's privacy."
The FTC will be conducting additional research this year to decide whether any laws have been compromised, and if further enforcement may be appropriate. It will also be amending the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) to include more guidelines concerning mobile technology.