The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently announced that some smartphone apps have been using Phone Numbers, location coordinates and other data on children without the parent or guardian’s knowledge.
A FTC report titled “Mobile Apps for Kids: Disclosures Still Not Making the Grade” examined the privacy disclosure statements from many popular children’s apps available for download from Google Play and Apple App stores. This is the second such survey conducted by the FTC with the first being conducted in February 2011.
The new report, which was released on Monday, explains the recent FTC survey of privacy disclosures on many children’s apps on smartphones or other devices. The FTC discovered that roughly 20 percent of child-intended apps reviewed contained no such information on how they used the data gathered from the user. The FTC also found that some 60 percent of the apps intended for children often shared data with a third party without the consent or disclosure to the parents or guardian.
The information being gathered on the children by the apps are things such as geo-location, the type of device the child may be using, their likes and dislikes and what carrier they may be using. The data is most often used to study the behavior of the user, and it is used to target advertisements or other types of marketing to drive up sales.
In a public statement, FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz expressed his worry that the mobile apps directed to children were unscrupulous because of the amount of data they were taking without some alert in place. Leibowitz says that the gatekeepers that allow the download of such apps needed to do a better job at monitoring what they allow as apps. In regards to the amount of data being taken, Leibowitz said the apps were taking, “an alarming amount of information”.
The report from the FTC did not go over any particular app, but they have determined that many app companies are possibly in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by using trickery or other types of unfair marketing tactics.
The FTC is in the beginning of what some feel will become better privacy laws set in place to protect young people on the Internet along with the mobile devices used to connect to the Internet. The FTC survey found that from a random 200 apps taken from each app store, that approximately 58 percent of them had advertisements. Of those 200 apps, a mere 9 percent mentioned they had advertisements, and 15 percent mentioned this prior to download. Twenty-two percent of the apps gave automatic links to social network sites but of that 22 percent only 9 percent alerted the user about the connection.