Kids, Apps and Privacy

Kids, Apps & PrivacyThere’s a plethora of mobile technology out there, and an even larger amount of apps to use with that technology.  Everybody has their favorite device, and their favorite apps – some more productive and worthwhile than others.  Our kids are not immune to this use of mobile tech and its accompanying apps.  App publishers and merchants like Apple, Facebook, Google, and Viacom have all created and/or sold educational and entertainment apps geared directly toward children.  But they’ve not exactly had the best interests of those kids at heart, it would seem.  Not, anyway, when it comes to protecting the privacy and safety of those children.

The FTC  recently conducted a survey that turned up some startling results. Over 400 of the most popular children’s apps were reviewed, and it was discovered that many of those apps – 80% in fact – did not disclose their data collecting practices and policies to the users.  No big deal, right?  Wrong!  Those data collecting practices include the following:

  • Transmitting the user’s location
  • Transmitting the serial number of the user’s device
  • Transmitting the phone number of the mobile phone being used
  • Supplying any and all of the above to advertisers and app designers
  • Tracking a user over several mobile devices, such as phone to iPad

Doing all of the above without the parents’ consent or even knowledge

All of this has the FTC concerned, and parents should be, as well.  This info could be used to contact children directly, certainly by advertisers, but also by those with less-than-mercantile intentions.  And all of this could happen without the parents’ knowledge or consent.  FTC regulators are so concerned that they are calling for more disclosure, for more openness and for more possible regulation or even legislation to help protect America’s youngest technology users.  In fact, some of the apps reviewed may have even violated Federal law by not obtaining parental permission before collecting personal data from users under 13 years of age.

The biggest concern for all, however, should be that the above named publishers and merchants – Apple, Facebook, Google and the gang – are pushing back against the FTC’s efforts, claiming that what will result will be an inhibition to offer sites, apps and other services to kids.

The FTC, however, sees the problem as systemic, and in need of attention.  They plan on strengthening the online privacy laws, especially where kids are concerned in the coming year.  The current laws haven’t been updated in nearly a decade, when mobile technology and its myriad of apps were in their own infancy.  Opponents are saying that the FTC report is being used to aid the FTC in asking for, and no doubt being granted, much stricter, tougher policies that would greatly change the way the apps makers do business, at least in the areas where children are concerned.  The FTC, however, argues that their survey shows the need for those tougher, stricter guidelines to begin with.

The bottom line for parents is this – be careful, very very careful, about what apps you allow your children access to.  Even when you think you, and they, are “safe” – the opposite may very well be true.

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