Protect Your Kids: Mobile Apps Gather Data on Children

The Federal Trade Commission found in a study that more than half of the children's apps researched sent the child's information to advertisers, marketing firms, and data banks.

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The Federal Trade Commission has released a report that will likely make some parents uncomfortable:  a growing number of popular mobile games and apps for kids typically found in the Google Play and Apple App stores are submitting children’s information to third parties, often without informing users as to the privacy policy of the application.

Such information that is being collected and sent to advertisers, marketing firms, and data banks include the physical location of the device being used, the user’s phone number, and phone numbers of friends that the user is connected with.  The FTC found that many games and apps which share information do not mention the types of data collected and who it will be shared with in their privacy disclosure, thus violating the privacy rights of children.

"Our study shows that kids' apps siphon an alarming amount of information from mobile devices without disclosing this fact to parents," said FTC Chairman John Liebowitz.  Of the 400 apps tested by FTC staff members, 59% of them were sending information to ad agencies or data banks.  This data can then be used by advertisers or marketing groups to create profiles on a child’s interests or habits and send messages to the child without their parents’ knowledge.

To protect children from apps that gather and share information, the FTC recommends that parents try out apps before they let their children use them to check the privacy policy and see what information is requested.  Parents can also see if the app connects to a social network, gaming platform, or other devices, as this may help advertisers to find information on the child, as well as their friends.  

Children can also be prevented from exchanging information through an app by putting the device on “airplane mode,” which disables the device’s transmitting functions.

The FTC also recommends having a discussion with children about safety and the dangers of sharing information through apps and the internet.  Let them know what information is appropriate and what is not appropriate to share with others, and tell children to check with an adult if they are unsure whether or not to enter any information into an app.