Many Mobile Apps for Children Fall Short on Disclosure to Parents, F.T.C. Report Says – NYTimes.com

Hundreds of mobile apps for children fail to provide parents with basic information on the kinds of sensitive information the apps collect and share about their children, said a new federal report Monday.

Only 20 percent of children’s apps provided disclosures about their data collection practices, according to a staff report from the Federal Trade Commission released on Monday. The apps that did offer disclosures often provided links to long, dense, technical privacy policies “filled with irrelevant information,” according to the report. Other apps, it said, gave misleading information about their practices.

The agency’s study examined the privacy policies of 400 popular children’s apps — half of them available through the Apple App Store and the other half through Google’s Android Market — and compared the apps’ disclosures to their actual data collection practices.

via Many Mobile Apps for Children Fall Short on Disclosure to Parents, F.T.C. Report Says – NYTimes.com.

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15 thoughts on “Many Mobile Apps for Children Fall Short on Disclosure to Parents, F.T.C. Report Says – NYTimes.com

  1. Data collection is a very touchy subject in the IT world. While it usually has negative connotations associated with it, most of the time the data is collected to improve the product for the end user. Bringing children into the equation makes this hit closer to home for most people and is probably why the author chose to do this on children but this problem exists everywhere. What would be best is some sort of brief synopsis before the user agreement hitting on all “big” topics of data collection.

  2. It is one thing to collect data about users, but in my opinion companies step across the line when they do not disclose exactly what they are doing. Although not all of the information that is collected is necessarily harmful, the user should still be made aware that it is being collected. Lengthy privacy policies tend to cover up these actions, and something should be done about making the policies clear and to the point. With children involved, information sharing especially becomes an issue. Sharing pictures, phone numbers, and geographic locations to third party companies can be a safety hazard to these children. Parents should be made aware of what their children are being exposed to and who can potentially see this personal information. Overall there needs to be a plan put in action to require companies to disclose what they are collecting, not only on apps for children, but apps for users of all ages.

  3. I agree with Stuart above, it seems like this is a consistent problem with disclosures everywhere, not just those concerning mobile kids apps. However, this article seems to suggest that the disclosure statements for mobile kids apps in particular are failing and revealing less than others. The issue with this is that kids apps give the impression to parents that they are safe and fun to use. For this reason, many parents are not aware that they are collecting data on their kids activities, device information etc. The obvious solution to this problem is to make the disclosures and practices within these apps more accessible for parents, by supplying a easy to read list of important information before making the app accessible. But one problem with this is what if it is the kid, not the parent who downloads and agrees to the app disclosures? Many apps make it so easy that a kid can do it simply by clicking agree so that once the parents notice the app already on their phone it is no longer presenting disclosure information. A solution to this could be that every time a person opens the app it reminds them of their most important privacy policy issues so that they have the choice to opt out or uninstall the app once they realize the true impact. But I think the main point of this is that people are not educated enough to realize that apps, websites and services use controversial privacy polices and companies either need to do a better job educating users or the problem needs to be made more apparent.

    1. I agree with Stuart, data collection is a very touchy subject. I think the seriousness of the collection of data largely depends on what that actual data the app is collecting. If personal information is being collected the potential risk of people use that information in a negative way i fell increases. I personally don’t mind if say, google tracks where i visit on the internet so they can use target advertising, but when it comes to personal information i fell a little differently. I think that the best possible solution for all types of data collection is to inform the user as much as possible. They need to let the user know what data is being collected and how it is going to be used. In situations such as facebook, i believe that along with the things i just stated they need to let you know who they are selling your information to and you if its alright for them to do so.

    2. I agree with Stuart and Sharonda. Bringing children into the conversation definitely makes the topic a lot more sensitive and makes it hit closer to home. If I were a parent, I would be very cautious as to what my kid was downloading, and I would definitely want to know what kind of data the app is tracking on my child. I was trying to think of a solution to this problem and the best I could come up with is to somehow have a parents email linked to the childs iTunes account and when an app is downloaded, all of the information regarding privacy policies is directly sent to the parents email for them to look over.

  4. For the most part I have quit worrying about what data is collected about me through apps and websites as I feel like there is not a whole lot I can do about it. When kids are brought into the conversation is when things start to get complicated as they are generally considered to be a protected demographic that should not be manipulated. What I found most shocking about the article is the section where they looked at 24 apps that claimed to not have in app advertising, but 10 of them actually did and that just seems like the app companies were blatantly lying about their products.

  5. For the most part I agree with Stuart and Sharonda here. A lot of problems that are a result of data collection could probably be fixed if there was more disclosure about what information was being collected and how it was going to be used. Apps that lie about collecting data on its user are always going to cause problems, and when they are apps for kids the problems created are going to be more severe. I feel that if it was mandated that apps have to disclose information about what kind of data they collect a lot of problems would be fixed and parents would definitely feel more informed.

  6. I personally think there needs to be tight restrictions on the collection of data from and advertising to children using these apps. At the least, these apps needs to tell parents about their practices and clearly lay out how they are collecting child information.

    Speaking to the issue of advertisements, I think they should be taken out of children’s apps and games or heavily restricted because it is very difficult for children to understand that the purpose of an advertisement is to get them to buy something. So they do not know the true meaning of the ads.

  7. I think apps for kids is when disclosure needs to be its most absolute. Parents need to know exactly what information about their kids is being collected. Kids are the most targeted audience for ads since they have their parents income to spend. They also have trouble recognizing what is an ad vs. part of the game, and they have issues with realizing when someone is trying to sell them something. These companies should be required to have full disclosure on content specifically made for kids.

  8. My first thought is that companies shouldn’t even be allowed to use data from children. However, I can understand how information like that could be very beneficial for the companies so I see why they would want to obtain it. It should be under some kind of ruling that they must have a specific outline of how the data would be used, as well as the option to opt out. While I think it’s especially important for this to be in place for children, I do think it should be an option for persons of any age to opt out if they do not want their own data being monitored. Unless they have some sort of incentive for the user, I don’t think it is fair that they could freely use their data without an individual’s consent.

  9. To give a child a smart phone already begins to question a parents parenting skills. With that said, obviously its wrong for a company to withhold information that could be very useful for parents to know about whats being given out about their kids. It is wrong but I don’t feel surprised at all. Perhaps Ive become too desensitized to the point that I just automatically assume my data is being shared with most apps regardless of what is being said in the agreements I never read. Parents cant rely on the countless companies that throw technology at us at the rate it does currently. The parent needs to step up and protect their kids themselves and not rely on others.

    1. I agree with Matt in that parents need to protect their children themselves. Although parents can’t get some of the information being collected about their children they should realize that before they install the app. It seems a little unethical that the companies won’t share what they are doing with the information but the companies do not have to do that. It should be on the parents to realize that the company may not let them see how the information is being used.

  10. As the article shows, “Only 20 percent of children’s apps provided disclosures about their data collection practices.” This means there are 80 percent of children’s apps will have data collection issues. This percentage is going to be a huge number out of the all the popular apps. In this digital age, children are more likely to have their own digital devices, such as smartphone and iPad. That leads to a ethical issue between the parents and their children, ‘is there really necessary to have a digital device for the children?’ Obviously, our technology has brought us to a new level, everything can be done with the Internet. Children can not only learn things but also get fun while using the mobile apps. Thus, digital devices do bring benefits as well as the ethical issues. Moreover, as parents, they should pay more attention to the mobile apps which their children are using.

  11. First of all I think stuart nailed the subject on the head. However I think that if a parent is going to give a children access to a phone or tablet, they need to be monitoring what kind of apps are downloaded onto it, and what kind of access they have. Personally if I was a parent I would know what applications were on my kids device if they were under 13.

  12. Is collecting data on children really that big of a deal? Children aren’t exactly going to go shopping without their parents permission/money. In the end it really falls on the parent to monitor what their child is doing/downloading. Obviously the parent can’t watch the child 24 hours a day, but it is still relatively simple to download an app that can do just that, it would probably even allow a parent to decide what is actually installable on the tablet or phone.

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