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The US Federal Trade Commission issued a new staff report, “Mobile Apps for Kids: Disclosures Still Not Making the Grade,” examining the privacy disclosures and practices of apps offered for children in the Google Play and Apple App stores. The report details the results of the FTC’s second survey of kids’ mobile apps.
The survey found that:
- Parents are not being provided with information about what data an app collects, who will have access to that data, and how it will be used. Only 20 percent of the apps staff reviewed disclosed any information about the app’s privacy practices.
- Many apps (nearly 60 percent of the apps surveyed) are transmitting information from a user’s device back to the app developer or, more commonly, to an advertising network, analytics company, or other third party.
- A relatively small number of third parties received information from a large number of apps. This means the third parties that receive information from multiple apps could potentially develop detailed profiles of the children based on their behavior in different apps.
- Many apps contain interactive features – such as advertising, links to social media, or the ability to purchase goods within an app – without disclosing those features to parents prior to download.
- Fifty-eight percent of the apps reviewed contained advertising within the app, while only 15 percent disclosed the presence of advertising prior to download.
- Twenty-two percent of the apps contained links to social networking services, while only nine percent disclosed that fact.
- Seventeen percent of the apps reviewed allow kids to make purchases for virtual goods within the app, with prices ranging from 99 cents to $29.99. 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.
The report strongly urges all entities in the mobile app industry – including app stores, app developers, and third parties providing services within the apps – to accelerate efforts to ensure that parents have the key information they need to make decisions about the apps they download for their children. The report also urges industry to implement recommendations in the recent FTC Privacy Report including:
- Incorporating privacy protections into the design of mobile products and services;
- Offering parents easy-to-understand choices about the data collection and sharing through kids’ apps; and
- Providing greater transparency about how data is collected, used, and shared through kids’ apps.
In addition, FTC staff is developing new consumer education directed to parents to help navigate the mobile app marketplace and avoid apps that fail to provide adequate disclosures.