A report from the FTC released this month, “Mobile Apps for Kids: Disclosures Still Not Making the Grade”, tells of what may be questionable practices. The report is an addendum to a previous agency study that showed lacking disclosure info for parents to protect their kids from possible negatives.
Back in February Federal Trade Commission (FTC) staff issue a report entitled; Mobile Apps for Kids: Current Privacy Disclosures are Disappointing, pointed to a deficient system in place for most apps where informing parents about privacy practices before kids actually download interactive apps. The FTC went on to engage with app stores and app developers to provide greater transparency. This most recent report is an assessment of just how far the industry has come in solving child privacy issues.
As in the first survey, this one looked at disclosures apps provide about privacy before and after downloading. However, the more recent report shows how well most apps disclose whether or not kids’ privacy issues may or may not be revealed to third parties. It was found that in many cases interactive and other apps do not in fact inform parents about third parties getting those children’s information.
Android and iOS stores were looked at, and a few of the findings were actually quite alarming. Many apps targeting kids collect such things as device ID, geo-location, and/or phone number and share these with third parties with no disclosure whatever. Ads in some, as well as giving kids the ability to make app purchases even, are of concern too. Finally, even despite high profile efforts to get app developers to be more transparent, the FTC says “little or no progress has been made” these last six months since the first study.
Among the disconcerting results FTC staff found with Google Play and Apple store apps were:
- 60% of the apps tested delivered the device ID to the developer and/or an advertising network, analytics company, or other third party.
- Only 20% of the apps reviewed actually disclosed any information about the app’s privacy practices.
- 58% of the mobileapps reviewed contained advertising within the app
- 22% of the apps contained links to social media sites
- 17% (66) of the apps reviewed gave the ability to make purchases with prices ranging from $0.99 in apps from both app stores, to $9.99 for Google Play mobile apps and $29.99 for Apple store apps.
While both Apple and Google Play stores have disclosures about some apps containing ads and etc., quite often those disclosures are not prominently displayed. And even more concern was expressed in this most recent report where a combination of applications shared user data with a single third party. In those cases very detailed information about the app users can be gleaned as the diagram from the FTC above shows.
Finally, still more FTC staff initiatives have been taken to ensure progress is made. Furthermore, ongoing investigations into whether or not failed disclosures or practices are in violation of COPPA or the agency’s own acts prohibiting unfair or deceptive practices, are now underway. Once again the FTC staff have put out the call to everyone involved in the mobile app industry to bring about the proper change and to follow the FTC’s guidelines for same. Those interested in the report may view it here (FTC).
Photo credits: FTC report images and chart – courtesy the “Mobile Apps for Kids: Disclosures Still Not Making the Grade” report.