FTC Urges Apple & Google to Get Serious About Kid Privacy

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has urged Apple and Google, as well as the entire mobile app industry, to get serious about the privacy of children. The Commission issued a report Monday that found 59 percent of mobile apps are collecting data and sending that data back to developers, analytic firms, or third party ad networks, and that this could allow those parties to develop profiles and know location data for kids.

The principal point of the report, Mobile Apps for Kids: Disclosures Still Not Making the Grade, is that parents have little knowledge and less control over what kind of information are collected about their kids, let alone what's being done with it.

"While we think most companies have the best intentions when it comes protecting kids’ privacy, 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. In fact, our study shows that kids' apps siphon an alarming amount of information from mobile devices without disclosing this fact to parents," FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a statement.

He added, "All of the companies in the mobile app space, especially the gatekeepers of the app stores, need to do a better job. We'll do another survey in the future and we will expect to see improvement."

The FTC downloaded the top 480 apps after searching for "kids" on both app stores, and ran its tests on 200 randomly selected apps culled from those downloads.

The chart below shows a breakdown of apps that transmit data from iPhones and Android devices from the device to third parties or the developers. 59 percent of the apps tested transmitted information, and one of them sent geolocation data to two separate networks within one second of opening the apps.

FTC Chart

Apps the Blab
Source: FTC

The chart below shows the kinds of data being gathered and transmitted. Again, 59 percent of apps were transmitting the device identifier. 3 percent shared geolocation data, and 1 percent shared the phone number of the device.

FTC Chart

Data Being Shared
Source: FTC

As adults, we aren't particularly protected by privacy regulations. Apple and Google have both tightened up their policies on privacy notifications, though we'll note that only Apple's App Store is specifically curated, but if we explicitly or implicitly agree to let advertisers collect information, or if the developer embeds code to report back to analytic firms, we're pretty much on the hook for being spied on to one degree or another.

As minors, children in the U.S. are subject to slightly more regulatory protection, for instance The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”), and the FTC said it was launching investigations into several unspecified entities to see if they were in violation of COPPA.

The concern is that there are "relatively few" companies collecting large amounts of data. With that data, someone could develop all manner of profiles on children. The infographic below sums that concern up nicely.

FTC Infographic

Encapsulating the Concern in One Infographic
Source: FTC

The full report contains a thorough explanation of the methodology of the report for both Apple's App Store and Google Play.