FTC Worries About Privacy of Mobile Children’s Apps

FTC logoThe FTC staff’s first survey of kids’ mobile apps in 2011, found little advancement in providing parents necessary information to determine what data is being collected from their children or how it is being shared accessed. The Federal Trade Commission’s new staff report, “Mobile Apps for Kids: Disclosures Still Not Making the Grade” examines privacy disclosures and practices of apps for children in  Google Play and Apple App stores.

FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz believes that while  most companies have the best intentions when it comes protecting kids’ privacy,  there is no real  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. 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,” he said.

Key findings include:

  • Parents are not being provided with information about what data an app collects, who will have access to that data, and how it will be used.  Only 20 percent of the apps staff reviewed disclosed any information about the app’s privacy practices.
  • Many apps (nearly 60 percent of the apps surveyed) are transmitting information from a users’ device back to the app developer or, more commonly, to an advertising network, analytics company, or other third party.
  • A relatively small number of third parties received information from a large number of apps.  This means the third parties that receive information from multiple apps could potentially develop detailed profiles of the children based on their behavior in different apps.
  • Many apps contain interactive features – such as advertising, links to social media, or the ability to purchase goods within an app – without disclosing those features to parents prior to download.

The report strongly recommends app stores, app developers, and third party app providers increase efforts to ensure parents have the necessary information to make informed decisions about the apps they allow their children to download. More specifically they advise app providers and developers:

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

The report also indicates that FTC staff will launch investigations to discern whether certain entities in the mobile app marketplace violate the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act or conduct unfair or deceptive practices that violate the Federal Trade Commission Act.

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