FTC To Probe Kids' App Developers


Developers of apps aimed at children still fail to inform parents about the apps' data collection practices, the Federal Trade Commission said on Monday.

"Despite many high-visibility efforts to increase transparency in the mobile marketplace, little or no progress has been made," the FTC said in a new report examining apps for children.

The agency will investigate whether app developers are violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, or engaging in unfair or deceptive practices. COPPA bans Web site operators from knowingly gathering personal information from children under 13 without their parents' permission.



The report marks the second time this year that the FTC has warned app developers that they potentially violate COPPA by failing to notify parents about data collection. In February, when the FTC issued its prior report, the agency recommended that app developers use "simple and short" disclosures to state what information is collected. The FTC also advised app developers to alert parents if the app with social media  allows for targeted advertising.

The FTC said on Monday that only a "handful" of app developers were providing concise disclosures. "Most apps failed to provide basic information about what data would be collected from kids, how it would be used, and with whom it would be shared," the report states. "It is clear that more needs to be done in order to provide parents with greater transparency in the mobile app marketplace."

For the report, FTC staff examined 200 Android apps and 200 iPhone apps aimed at children. Researchers found that most of the apps (around 60%) transmitted the device's identifier to a developer, ad network, analytics company or other outside party. Fourteen apps also transmitted geolocation data, telephone numbers, or both.

Only 20% of the apps provided any information about their privacy practices -- either on a promotional page, developer site or within the app.

The report mentioned that one app transmitted device identifiers, geolocation data and phone numbers to "multiple" ad networks -- even though it specifically stated it did not share or sell personal information to third parties, except to government agencies for security purposes.

The FTC also said the majority of kids' apps -- 58% -- contained in-app advertising, but only 15% of all apps disclosed that information before they were downloaded.

The commission currently is considering whether to update COPPA by banning companies from using behavioral targeting techniques on children younger than 13.

Monday's report drew the attention of Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas), who co-chair a House privacy caucus. "The FTC’s report clearly reveals that more must be done to arm parents with the most effective tools to protect their children when they are online," they said in a joint statement. "Children's personal information should not be secretly siphoned off by mobile apps without parents' knowledge or permission."

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