FTC Eyes Privacy Violations in Mobile Apps for Children

Concerned that certain smart-phone or mobile-computing apps for kids could be violating privacy laws, the Federal Trade Commission said today that it is investigating “certain entities in the mobile app marketplace.”
The consumer-protection agency, which helps enforce online privacy protections, wants to know if mobile-app providers are violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act or engaging in unfair or deceptive practices in violation of federal law.
A new FTC report, “Mobile Apps for Kids: Disclosures Still Not Making the Grade,” examines the privacy disclosures and practices of apps offered for children in the Google Play and Apple App stores.
There has been little progress since last year’s survey of the industry in providing parents the information needed to determine what data is being collected from their children, how it is being shared, or who will have access to it, the FTC concluded.
Many of the apps surveyed included interactive features, such as connecting to social media. The apps also sent information from the mobile device to ad networks, analytics companies, or other third parties, without disclosing these practices to parents.
“While we think most companies have the best intentions when it comes protecting kids’ privacy, we haven’t seen any progress when it comes to making sure parents have the information they need to make informed choices about apps for their kids.  In fact, our study shows that kids’ apps siphon an alarming amount of information from mobile devices without disclosing this fact to parents,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.
The FTC report “strongly urges” the mobile app industry – including app stores, app developers, and third parties providing services within the apps – to ensure that parents have the information they need to make decisions about the apps they download for their children.
The report also urges industry the industry to:

  • Incorporating privacy protections into the design of mobile products and services;
  • Offering parents easy-to-understand choices about the data collection and sharing through kids’ apps; and
  • Providing greater transparency about how data is collected, used, and shared through kids’ apps.

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