Privacy is a growing concern for parents of children who are increasingly addicted to technology such as smartphones and tablets. It's certainly not the children's fault, they're growing up in a society where even mom and dad spend most of their day looking at a screen or manipulating an app with their fingers, and it's only natural for their curiosity to take over. However, not all app developers who make programs geared toward children are doing so with good intentions, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently released a report showing just how bad the situation has become.
The FTC first compiled a report on the subject of privacy and children's apps in 2011, at which time they discovered that many apps were not disclosing what type of information they were collecting, with whom they were sharing the information, how access to their information would be handled, or even asking children to get parental permission before providing sensitive information. Now, with the 2012 report completed, the FTC discovered that very little progress has been made in correcting any of these issues, and that the developers continue to ignore basic privacy concerns.
"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. In fact, our study shows that kids' apps siphon an alarming amount of information from mobile devices without disclosing this fact to parents," said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. "All of the companies in the mobile app space, especially the gatekeepers of the app stores, need to do a better job. We'll do another survey in the future and we will expect to see improvement."
The analysts looked at apps from both the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store, and found that developers on both platforms were universally bad at providing proper privacy and security barriers for children. In fact, the analysts reported "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 with third parties – such as device ID, geolocation, or phone number – 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."
As a result of this report, the FTC is ramping up their efforts to provide more public information on the subject of privacy and security when it comes to children using technology. Children's privacy online is not a new issue, but the sudden explosion of apps and easily accessible devices has moved the issue to the forefront of privacy advocates around the world. Additionally, the commission is launching non-public investigations into whether some developers have violated the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, or even if those developers or stores are engaging in deceptive acts that may be criminal outside of that Act.