FTC warns app stores and mobile developers on their children data policy

By Telecom Lead Team: App stores and mobile app
developers are not providing the information parents need to determine what
data is being collected from their children, how it is being shared, or who
will have access to it.

“Companies that operate in the mobile marketplace
provide great benefits, but they must step up to the plate and provide easily
accessible, basic information, so that parents can make informed decisions
about the apps their kids use. It is impossible to figure out which apps
collect data and what they do with it. The kids app ecosystem needs to
wake up, and we want to work collaboratively with industry to help ensure
parents have the information they need,” said FTC Chairman Jon

According to the FTC report, Mobile Apps for Kids:
Current Privacy Disclosures are Disappointing,
in 2008, smartphone users could choose from about 600 available
apps. Today there are more than 500,000 apps in the Apple App Store and
380,000 in the Android Market. 

Consumers have downloaded these apps more than 28 billion
times, and young children and teens are increasingly embracing smartphone
technology for entertainment and educational purposes.

The report says the survey focused on the largest stores,
the Apple App Store and the Android Market, and evaluated the types of apps
offered to children, the disclosures provided to users, interactive features
such as connectivity with social media, and the ratings and parental controls
offered for such apps.

The report highlights the lack of information available
to parents prior to downloading mobile apps for their children, and calls on
industry to provide greater transparency about their data practices.

While there was a diverse pool of kids apps created by
hundreds of different developers, there was almost no information about the
data collection and sharing on the Apple App store promotion pages and little
information beyond general permission statements on the Android Market
promotion pages. 

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 … obtained access to such data.

The report recommends:

All members of the kids app ecosystem should play an
active role in providing key information to parents.

App developers should provide data practices information
in simple and short disclosures.  They also should disclose whether the
app connects with social media, and whether it contains ads.  Third
parties that collect data also should disclose their privacy practices.

App stores also should take responsibility for ensuring
that parents have basic information.  The report notes that the stores
provide architecture for sharing pricing and category data, and should be able
to provide a way for developers to provide information about their data
collection and sharing practices.

The FTC enforces the Children’s Online Privacy Protection
Rule.  The Rule requires operators of online services, including
interactive mobile apps, to provide notice and get parental consent prior to
collecting information from children under 13.  The report says in the
next 6 months, FTC staff will conduct an additional review to determine whether
some mobile apps were violating COPPA.

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