FTC: Mobile Apps Made For Kids Are Secretly Collecting Info On Minors, Sharing It

The Federal Trade Commission has been doing some digging around to make sure kids on the Internet are protected and has subsequently come up with some shocking news. Most of the mobile apps the agency checked out by way of the Google Play and the Apple App store are not only gathering info from kids without parents’ knowledge or their permission, they’re also sharing it.

In a new study by the FTC, info like device IDs, phone numbers, locations, and other private information is being culled by way of mobile apps marketed to children, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Almost 60% of the apps the FTC studied transmitted the device ID and often shared it with an advertising network or other third party. Out of 235 mobile apps, 14 shared the location of the device and the phone number connected to it. A third party could ostensibly compile all of the info it received on children and come up with detailed profiles based on which games they played and which apps they used.

Parents might be surprised to know that over half of those apps used by kids had interactive features like the ability to purchase things within the app, as well as ads, without informing adults that such things could occur. Indeed, only 20% of the apps even disclosed info about their own privacy practices.

This has all got the FTC worried.

“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,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a written statement. “All of the companies in the mobile app space, especially the gatekeepers of the app stores, need to do a better job. We’ll do another survey in the future and we will expect to see improvement.”

Federal regulators have already been on the case, proposing updates to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act regarding what kind of info companies can collect on kids online, but many parents are still in the dark when it comes to apps for kids. After all, they’re kind of just like games, so what harm could possibly be done? Plenty.

“Parents still are not given basic information about the privacy practices and interactive features of mobile apps aimed at kids,” the study released Monday concluded.

In addition to going after online sites aimed at children, the FTC said today it’s going to take a closer look at mobile app developers to see if they’re running afoul of COPPA. Which makes sense, because even as “game-like” and harmless as those apps are, kids don’t need to physically type in any information for it to be transmitted back to companies. They just need to play.

FTC: Most mobile apps for kids secretly collect and share information [Los Angeles Times]