Apps That Spy on Kids?
by Stephanie Maloney
I’m a technology fan but there are times when we have to pay close attention to “the little man behind the curtain.”
According to researchers, from UC Berkeley, the University of British Columbia and Stony Brook University, “Nearly one in five of the most popular free children- and family-oriented apps in the Google Play store improperly collects “identifiers or other personally identifiable information”
The study, which analyzed 5,855 apps, found that 281 — or about 5 percent — collect contact or location data without first seeking parent approval and the apps could be violating 1999’s Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act or COPPA.
“This study has just given the FTC hundreds of companies that they could be going after right now,” said Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood
“I think that if there was better and more regular enforcement, that it could change the industry,” added.
Twenty-eight percent of the apps studied bypassed Android permissions to access “sensitive data,” the study found, while 73 percent of the apps in question collected “sensitive data.” The worst offenders were apps that collected users’ geolocation information.
“Geolocation data not only reveals where individuals live, but could also enable inferences about their socioeconomic classes, everyday habits, and health conditions, among others,” the study reads.
Golin said he hopes the research spurs parents to think twice before downloading apps for kids.
The study comes a week after a group of privacy and children’s advocacy groups, including the CCFC, filed an FTC complaint against YouTube, arguing that Google’s video platform was illegally collecting personal data from children.
Google, in a statement, said it takes the study seriously.