According to a Feb. 16 report released by the FTC, developers and vendors of mobile apps are violating the privacy of young consumers by collecting their personal information without parental consent. The FTC is specifically targeting smartphone providers Google and Apple to create more transparency in their data collection methods. This would provide parents with upfront information about the apps used by their children.
“Companies that operate in the mobile marketplace provide great benefits, but they must step up to the plate and provide easily accessible, basic information so that parents can make informed decisions about the apps their kids use,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a statement.
The report, titled Mobile Apps for Kids: Current Privacy Disclosures are Disappointing, said that a majority of the apps promoted by Google and Apple target minors. The ability of seemingly harmless puzzles and memory games to access and transmit users’ information is of “greatest concern.”
“In most instances, staff was unable to determine from the information on the app store page or the developer’s landing page whether an app collected any data, let alone the type of data collected, the purpose for such collection and who collected or obtained access to such data,” the report said.
As the mobile app marketplace continues to expand, more people are turning to smartphones and tablets to entertain their children. However, many consumers don’t realize that app developers can share collected data with third parties such as advertisers and social media outlets. This information includes, according to the report, precise geolocation, phone number, contact lists, call history and “unique device identifiers.”
“Consumers, especially children, should not have to contend with mobile spies,” Jeff Chester, executive director of the privacy advocacy group Center for Digital Democracy, told The Washington Post in an interview. “Both Google and Apple, the two leading mobile app companies, must do a much better job protecting children’s privacy.”
The New York Times reported a statement issued by Google in response to the FTC’s criticism. Google said it is reviewing the report.
“From the beginning, Android has had an industry-leading permission system, which informs consumers what data an app can access and requires user approval before installation,” said Google spokesman Randall Sarafa.
The release of the FTC report follows news that app developers are bypassing privacy policies and taking data from smartphone address books, a controversial move that has left technology companies and privacy advocates split.