New studies being published all the time sing the praises for the educational value behind mobile apps on tablets and smartphones, but a new report from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission is voicing some pressing concerns.
The key point of the report is that there is a gaping hole where there should be specific information about how app stores and developers are collecting data from apps, how that data is being shared, and who else has access to it.
Unfortunately, as seen with recent incidents involving Path and Twitter (just to name a couple among many others), it's becoming evident that app developers and the companies behind them are storing personal data (usually contact information) collected from mobile devices.
While that might just seem common place (although still infuriating for some) to many mobile consumers, it's much more serious when you consider what kind of information is being collected about children.
In prepared remarks, FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz explained the department's motives for the report:
At the FTC, one of our highest priorities is protecting children's privacy, and parents deserve the tools to help them do that. Companies that operate in the mobile marketplace provide great benefits, but they must step up to the plate and provide easily accessible, basic information, so that parents can make informed decisions about the apps their kids use.
Right now, it is almost impossible to figure out which apps collect data and what they do with it. The kids app ecosystem needs to wake up, and we want to work collaboratively with industry to help ensure parents have the information they need.
Researchers honed in on apps available in the Apple App Store and the Android Market with each hosting 500,000 and 380,000 apps, respectively.
The FTC found faults with both of them:
While there was a diverse pool of kids apps created by hundreds of different developers, there was almost no information about the data collection and sharing on the Apple App store promotion pages and little information beyond general permission statements on the Android Market promotion pages.
Thus, the FTC has published several specific suggestions for the Apple and Google (as well as companies behind other app stores) that they should take heed of quickly. Some of those tips include providing data practices information in simple and short disclosures and disclose upfront if the app connects to social media and networks.