I don’t know about you, but in my family the smartphone has become a go-to distraction for antsy kids, especially when they’re out at a restaurant. So you might be a bit concerned about a new report issued by the Federal Trade Commission, outlining the lack of extra privacy protections for kids using mobile apps.
It’s particularly troubling because children are supposed to be afforded heightened privacy protections under legislation like the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.
In its report, “Mobile Apps for Kids: Current Privacy Disclosures Are Disappointing,” the FTC says it found very little information from the apps or their developers about whether they are collecting data from users, what type of data is collected and why, and exactly who collected or accessed the data.
Also of concern to the FTC are “permissions.” When you download an app, you usually get a list of permissions to which you consent once you get the app. These include things like accessing your locations, reading your contact data, and requesting full Internet access. But often missing was any clear explanation about what an app does with the various permissions it’s given when downloaded from Google’s Android Market, why it needs those permissions, or whether it shares information with third parties.
Apple takes a different tack than Google, reviewing an app’s data-collection policies before releasing it. But the FTC says “the details of this screening process are not clear.”
Another area for parents to watch out for: social networking functions within apps. You should know when apps integrate social-networking functions, but often you’re not informed of that before an app is downloaded. Some apps, for example, automatically share information like game scores, user names, and other data with unknown third parties.
So next time you go out to eat, consider going back to your roots: Pack a coloring book and crayons, a doll or two, and maybe some toy trucks.