Mobile apps targeted at young children seldom disclose privacy policies, study shows

As a new, younger generation comes online, Better Business Bureau warns parents that some mobile applications for smart phones and tablets may be siphoning children’s data and sharing it.  In most cases, developers are not disclosing whether data is being collected, with whom it is being shared or how it is used.

A study conducted by the Federal Trade Commission found that nearly 60 percent of children’s applications available from the iTunes store and Google Play that were examined by researchers failed to provide any information about the data collected through the app, let alone the type of data collected, the purpose of the collection and who would obtain access to the data.”

The data collected and shared can include the child’s location, telephone number, contacts, device ID and other information contained on the mobile device.  More worrying, according to the FTC, is that some applications offer the ability to make purchases and provide links to social media without disclosing these features prior to download.”

Additionally, the study found that only 20 percent of the apps reviewed disclose any privacy policies, 22 percent contain links to social networking sites and almost 60 percent of them transmit information to advertisers, analytics companies and other third parties.

BBB recommends parents take these steps to protect their children and families’ personal information:

  • Research before downloading. Carefully examine the details of the app, including the description, developer information and privacy policy. Additionally, read reviews from other customers, not only at the download sites, but also through search engines.
  • Carefully research free apps. Of the free apps that were studied, 58 percent were “ad-supported,” which typically led to an app download site when clicked. This could give young children the option to download apps without their parents’ permission.
  • Control kids’ sharing. Determine whether applications allow young users to post their own content to social media sites and decide whether it is appropriate to allow your children to do so before downloading an app.