FTC Criticizes Privacy Leaks in Kids' Apps

FTC Criticizes Privacy Leaks in Kids' Apps

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A new FTC study says that nearly 60 percent of popular apps for kids share data with developers or third parties, most of them without the knowledge of parents.

Mobile apps for kids bring their own unique kind of headaches to the table. A growing number of young children have access to smartphones or tablets and while they're technically savvy enough to use them like pros, they're not usually quite so up to speed on things like privacy concerns and money. Remember last year when that kid blew $1400 on Smurfberries? That led some developers and publishers to at least talk about changing their ways, but now the Federal Trade Commission is raising the alarm about the lack of privacy in many of these apps and that only a small number of them disclose their data sharing with parents.

The FTC report "Mobile Apps For Kids: Disclosures Still Not Making the Grade" found that 59 percent of 400 "popular kids' apps" on iOS and Android devices transmit information about the device on which they're being played to either the developer or a third party, but only 20 percent actually disclose the fact that this is being done. Despite some developers and app stores claiming that they're trying to make their apps more "child-friendly," the FTC isn't satisfied with the job that's being done.

"While we think most companies have the best intentions when it comes to 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," FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a statement. "In fact, our study shows that kids' apps siphon an alarming amount of information from mobile devices without disclosing this fact to parents."

The study also found that 58 percent of the apps in question contained advertising but only 15 percent of them disclosed that fact prior to downloading, and 22 percent contained links to social networks, but only nine percent reported it. Furthermore, "a relatively small number of third parties received information from a large number of apps," which could allow them to develop detailed profiles of their customers based on their behavior across multiple apps.

"The report strongly urges all entities in the mobile app industry - including app stores, app developers, and third parties providing services within the apps - to accelerate efforts to ensure that parents have the key information they need to make decisions about the apps they download for their children," the FTC said. "The report also states that FTC staff is launching non-public investigations to determine whether certain entities in the mobile app marketplace are violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act or engaging in unfair or deceptive practices in violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act."

I don't have a problem with ad-supported games - it's the inevitable dark side to all the "free" apps that mobile customers have grown used to - and I'm not naive enough to believe that most people would pay attention to full disclosure about privacy issues even if it was being made. Even so, it does need to be made. It's unfortunate when people choose to be indifferent about such things, but far worse when they're deprived of the choice altogether.

Source: Federal Trade Commission

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So, they issued a report. are they going to do anything about it? and what kind of repercussions from these non-public investigations will there be?

IMO it's business as usual, the entire practice needs to be done away with, through regulation if nothing else, not just when aimed at children. Simply informing the customers isn't enough since it usually comes down to "accept this, or go without". Tasteful ads are one thing, but this information compiling and profile building has got to be stopped.

gardian06:
So, they issued a report. are they going to do anything about it?

Send an abriged version of the report to Fox News, say it has something to do with pedophiles.

We can be certain that Fox would love to take another dump on the gaming crowd, however we can focus that shit on the segment most of us hate.

This is why I only play AAA titles - no apps, no facebook games. Steam is much more upfront about sharing data than any of these mobile startups.

I think the responsibility should fall on the publisher(Microsoft, Apple, Google). When I listing my games on the store, my target audience is 18-35, but there is no button for that. There is nothing harmful in my games that kids can't play it, so it listed as all ages.

I don't collect data or have in-game ads, but if I did, would I break the law if not pre-notifying people who download the app?? There just needs to be more clarity on the rules and that falls in the hands of those who release the apps, the publishers.

Andy Chalk:

"While we think most companies have the best intentions when it comes to 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," FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a statement.

Anyone else have no idea what he means here about companies having our best interests at heart?

I find it somewhat ironic that, despite all the clamor about "protect the children", it looks like children are the ones who will end up protecting us, if only because people finally realize how much of an issue these privacy concerns are when a kid has to deal with it (because, hey, fooling adults, or teens, is totally fair it seems).

Hopefully this will erode these practices. I'm not against ad-supported apps, or even about data gathering per-se. What I'm totally opposed to is the practice of hiding these facts from the user. It is dishonest, and harmful to the industry in general.

 

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