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EDITORIAL: Right for FTC to examine data mining on kids
[December 11, 2012]

EDITORIAL: Right for FTC to examine data mining on kids

Dec 11, 2012 (Contra Costa Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- The concept of Internet privacy is, functionally speaking, an oxymoron. The unvarnished truth is that there is very little privacy on the Internet. Oh sure, Facebook and others sites appealing to a mass audience may lead you to believe you have privacy, but the truth is that information isn't really all that private.

Anyone who wants absolute privacy should not be knocking about on the Internet. It is simply too easy to track the comings and goings of virtually any users. As we have seen all too often, information that we might not want out has a way of getting out.

Still, we are pleased to see a Federal Trade Commission report that begins to address the issue of mobile apps collecting personal information about children without telling the users or their parents.

The FTC issued the report Monday that said some popular apps for mobile products may be violating regulations that bar unfair or deceptive practices. According to the FTC, some of the apps are collecting the information and sharing it with either advertisers or third parties.

Of course such data mining has been standard practice in the tech world for almost as long as the Internet has been around, but targeting kids' information without their parents' permission strikes us as fraught with potential for misuse.

The FTC has launched an investigation into such practices. We welcome that investigation. It is the best way to find out the seriousness of the problem.

The FTC's staff conducted a survey of app providers and found that most apps do not disclose that they collect data from kids.

The FTC is expected to decide later this month whether it should expand the current rules for protecting kids' privacy by adding more types of information to the list of data that online operators can't collect without parents' permission. However, the results of the FTC's own survey cause us to wonder whether such action would be effective. After all, if many app suppliers aren't following current rules, why would we expect more rules to change the landscape In its survey, the FTC examined 200 of the most popular games and other apps that are marketed for kids. More than half transmitted information to advertising networks, including the digital code that identifies the device on which the app is being used.

That could allow the advertiser to develop a detailed profile of the device user's interests and habits that could be used to send kids highly personalized advertising messages. Some of the apps share precise information about the user's physical location and phone number.

We think that is disconcerting at the very least and we actually find it downright creepy.

Again, we fully recognize there is little, if any, true privacy on the Internet, but we should do the best we can to protect our kids from being unwitting data mines for those willing to pay for the information.

Stronger efforts are needed not just by the FTC, but also through clearer disclosure by app developers, advertising agencies and the operators of major app stores.

The FTC has published tips for concerned parents on its website at ___ (c)2012 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.) Visit the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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