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FTC report on apps for children says stricter data collection policies are needed

FTC report on apps for children says stricter data collection policies are needed


The FTC today released a report emphasizing there should be further transparency related to privacy and data collection within mobile apps aimed at children.

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The Federal Trade Commission released a report on apps targeted at kids today, saying it's concerned with a lack of clarity around privacy and data collection. In July of last year, agency staff took to both the iTunes App Store and the browser-based Android Market to examine kid-focused content available through each ecosystem. Searching for the word "kid," employees collected the first 480 apps offered by each marketplace, randomly choosing 200 from both for detailed examination. They scoured the landing page of each app for information related to the type of app, its intended audience, data collection, social network integration, and in-app purchase capabilities, among other criteria. Needless to say, they weren't pleased with their findings.

Fresh off the ongoing iOS contacts controversy, the issue of data collection transparency is placed front and center here, and the results aren't good. "In most instances, staff was unable to determine from the information on the app store page or the developer’s landing page whether an app collected any data, let alone the type of data collected, the purpose for such collection, and who collected or obtained access to such data," the report states. The FTC spreads blame to Apple, Google, and app developers for failing to provide clear and easy-to-understand information on the data gathering tendancies of software parents are downloading for their children.

On the Android side, just 24 percent of the 200 surveyed apps required no special permissions to run. Of those that did, only three provided reasons for why those permissions were necessary on the app's storefront page. The FTC wasn't any more satisfied with Apple's methods. Chief among its concerns are a lack of transparency around Cupertino's approval process for youth-focused apps and developers offering few details on what information an iOS device is collecting during app usage. The FTC suggests the creation of a simplified system that would make things more convenient for mobile users. "Armed with such information, parents can make knowledgeable decisions about the apps they choose for their children, and embrace these technologies with more confidence," it says.

Ominously, the FTC also says the report is intended to serve as a warning to the mobile industry in regards to potential violations of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The agency says it plans to conduct further research over the next six months to discover whether such violations exist and if enforcement may be necessary. The Wall Street Journal notes that the report comes following a $50,000 settlement collected by the FTC after it found numerous apps from developer W3 Innovations were collecting email addresses of those under 13 without parental consent, so it's reasonable to think that more fines could be in the cards.