FTC: children's apps share "alarming" amount of data

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Report calls on app developers to clarify privacy settings for apps designed for children

Apps designed for children are grabbing an "alarming" amount of private information without alerting parents, according to a report from the US Federal Trade Commission.

In a report - Mobile Apps for Kids: Disclosures Still Not Making the Grade - looking into children's apps and controls for parents, the FTC criticised app makers for failing to inform children and parents over information shared with ad networks, data analytics firms and other third parties.

"Our study shows that kids' apps siphon an alarming amount of information from mobile devices without disclosing this fact to parents," said FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz of results that included the Apple and Android platforms.

All of the companies in the mobile app space, especially the gatekeepers of the app stores, need to do a better job

"All of the companies in the mobile app space, especially the gatekeepers of the app stores, need to do a better job."

Of the 400 apps under scrutiny, only 20% warned about the privacy policies associated with the software on the app’s promotion page, on the developer website, or within the app.

"Even more troubling, the results showed that many of the apps shared certain information with third parties – such as device ID, geolocation, or phone number – without disclosing that fact to parents," the FTC said.

With almost one in five apps for children allowing in-app payments, the report also called on Apple and Google to do more to warn parents of the potential costs.

"Prices ranged from $0.99 to $29.99 - and although both stores provided certain indicators when an app contained in-app purchasing capabilities, these indicators were not always prominent and, even if noticed, could be difficult for many parents to understand."

Policy confusion

Some apps were deliberately misleading, with privacy policies that claimed not to share data, but were beaming a huge collection of information to third parties.

"One app that transmitted device ID, geolocation, and phone number to multiple advertising networks had a troubling privacy disclosure stating that the app does not share information with third parties," the FTC found.

The FTC also said the wording of privacy policies and notification made it hard to understand what they actually meant.

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