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December 10, 2012

Are there Sufficient Privacy Disclosures in Apps Used by Children?

By Joe Rizzo, TMCnet Contributing Writer

Earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) conducted a survey of mobile applications that are offered to children. The apps were offered by Apple’s (News - Alert) App Store and Google’s Android Market. These are the two largest app stores in the U.S.

The purpose of the FTC survey was to see if the apps provided any privacy disclosures at the time of download. A follow-up survey was conducted by the FTC (News - Alert) and released this week. The first survey simply looked at the policy. This report can be found here. The goal of the follow-up survey was to provide a “hands on” test to see the type of information that the apps actually collected.

Unfortunately, the second survey found that the interactive features provided information to third parties. Far too many of the tested apps transmitted children’s data to marketers. Some of downloaded apps had interactive features involving social networking or even allowing children to make purchases online. Parents were not informed that these features were part of the download.

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What is disturbing about the information is that it included such identifiers as the device’s phone number, its location and any identification code making that device unique. That is a lot of information that can be used by advertisers to determine the daily habits of the device’s user. This kind of detailed profiling could create safety hazard situations for children. Marketers would know exactly where a child was based on the location of their device.

Children want to be independent. Having their own mobile device gives them the ability to have greater latitude of independence. However, the flip side of this independence is that advertisers and marketers now have a degree of contact with children.

App stores need to take serious responsibility to ensure that the apps they sell to children do not violate any privacy laws. There are a growing number of young children who use tablets and devices, such as the Kindle, to download books. Parents are proud of the fact that their kids use these devices to learn how to read, do math problems or play games at an early age. What the parents do not want is to have advertisements for other products pop up and be geared toward the child who is using the device.

There is a law called the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA for short). This law requires that websites must obtain a parent’s permission before collecting or sharing names, phone numbers, addresses or other personal information from children who are under 13 years of age. The FTC is looking into whether the current practices violate this law. The FTC submitted revisions to COPPA in September. If the changes are accepted online privacy protection would be greatly increased. There would be stricter policies concerning a device’s ID information, including any GPS information.

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO Miami 2013, Jan 29- Feb. 1 in Miami, Florida.  Stay in touch with everything happening at ITEXPO (News - Alert). Follow us on Twitter.

Edited by Brooke Neuman
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