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FTC: Apple and Google not doing enough to protect privacy in kids apps

Source: FTC

Last updated

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission published a report on Monday saying that app stores like those operated by Apple and Google need to take responsibility for enhanced transparency, as there is little to no information available to parents regarding the collection and transmission of data from apps targeted at children.

Monday's FTC staff report (PDF link) is a follow-up to the February study Mobile Apps for Kids: Current Privacy Disclosures are Disappointing, which raised concerns over a gross lack of information offered by developers pertaining to privacy and the interactive features of mobile apps for kids.

According to the study, kids' apps included interactive features or shared gathered information with third parties, but failed to disclose the practices to parents in the app descriptions seen on Apple's App Store or Google's Android Market.

As noted by The Wall Street Journal, almost 60 percent of 400 randomly selected apps transmitted sensitive device information to developers or third parties like advertising networks and analytics firms. Only 20 percent of the apps studied disclosed information about possible data collection practices, 11 percent of which actually transmitted information while 9 percent did not. Data sent from the various mobile devices included geolocation information, phone numbers and device IDs.

Study Data
Source: FTC

The percentage of apps that didn't disclose certain interactive features, such as ads or links to social networking services, were nearly identical with 58 percent containing in-app advertising, while 22 percent had embedded links to social network sites. Only 15 percent of the apps disclosed the presence of ads and 9 percent indicated outgoing links.

From the report:

The results of the survey are disappointing. Industry appears to have made little or noprogress 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.

Although it is the responsibility of app makers to describe and issue warnings for their respective wares, Apple and Google are seen as "gatekeepers" because they curate and run the two largest app stores in the U.S. This is especially true for Apple's App Store as the company keeps a close eye on what is allowed into its so-called "walled garden."

The FTC believes both companies can do more to ensure parents have sufficient information when downloading software for their children.

“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,” 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.”