Mobile apps for children continue
to leave parents in the dark as to what information is being collected and what
is being done with that information, according to a new study by the Federal
Trade Commission (FTC).
The study, “Mobile Apps for Kids: Disclosures Still Not Making the Grade,” is a follow-up to a February 2012 study, which reported that little or
no information was available to parents about the privacy practices and interactive
features of the mobile apps surveyed. In
practices often did not follow the policies.
The FTC randomly picked for the
study 400 apps aimed at children. Of
those reviewed, 59 percent transmitted some information from the user’s mobile
app back to the developer or to a third party.
over 700,000 children’s apps available in Apple’s App Store and a similar number
available in Google Play.
“The survey results showed that
parents still are not given basic information about the privacy practices and
interactive features of mobile apps aimed at kids,” the report states. “Indeed, most apps failed to provide any information about the data collected
through the app, let alone the type of data collected, the purpose of the
collection, and who would obtain access to the data.”
“Even more troubling, the results
showed that many of the apps shared certain information – such as device ID,
geolocation, or phone number – with third parties without disclosing that fact
to parents. Further, a number of apps
contained interactive features – such as advertising, the ability to make
in-app purchases, and links to social media – without disclosing these features
to parents prior to download.”
One of the most common pieces of
information collected and shared is the device user ID. In fact, 59 percent of the apps that
transmitted information transmitted the user ID to the app developer or third
parties. Also transmitted were
geolocation information and phone numbers.
“Using the device ID and other information from multiple apps, these
third parties could potentially develop detailed profiles of the children using
the apps, without the parent’s knowledge or consent,” the FTC explained.
The report noted that one app’s
disclosure stated that it “may record user foot prints for the analysis
purposes. Your email address and
personal information are only stored if you subscribe to the newsletter or
special offers. We do not share or sell
this information to third parties in any sense.” In reality, the app transmitted the device
ID, geolocation, and phone number to multiple advertising networks.
“The results of the survey are
disappointing. Industry appears to have
made little or no progress in improving its disclosures since the first kids’
app survey was conducted, and the new survey confirms that undisclosed sharing
is occurring on a frequent basis,” the FTC report said.
As a result of its findings, the
FTC is investigating whether the discrepancies between company practices and
disclosures could constitute violations of the Children’s Online Privacy
The FTC will conduct another
survey in six months.