How Private is Your Kid’s Mobile Usage?

Earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commission issued a report on a survey of mobile applications aimed specifically at kids. The organization found that little or no information was available to parents regarding privacy practices and interactive features in many of the apps. The FTC called for increased transparency and recently conducted a follow-up report called “Mobile Apps for Kids: Disclosures Still Not Making the Grade.” As the name suggests, there is still plenty of room for improvement from the app ecosystem.

After taking a second look at Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) App Store and Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android Market, the two largest domestic app stores, little progress has been made in providing parents with information about how data is collected from their children, how it is being shared, or who will have access to it. The FTC randomly selected 200 apps from each store using the keyword “kids” and looked at disclosures and links on each app’s promotion page, the developer’s website, and within the app itself. It found that only 20 percent of the apps reviewed disclosed any information about the app’s privacy practices.

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Furthermore, nearly 60 percent of the apps surveyed are transmitting information from a user’s device to the app developer, an advertising network, analytics company, or some other third party. Information shared includes details such as device ID, geolocation, or phone number. The most common piece of information shared was a user’s ID, which is a combination of letters and numbers to uniquely identify each mobile device. The majority of those went to third parties. With so many apps sharing information with the same third party, it becomes relatively easy for a company to develop a detailed profile of all data associated with a particular device ID.

“While we think most companies have the best intentions when it comes to 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,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. “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.”

Many apps in the survey also contain features such as…