FTC: Most Kids' Apps Fall Short On Privacy Disclosures

Developers of childrens' apps are improving their privacy disclosures, but most apps for kids still fall short, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Just 45% of kids' apps now offer parents links to privacy policies before the apps are downloaded, according to a new report by The FTC's Office of Technology Research and Investigation.

That figure marks an improvement from 2012, when only 22% of apps offered links to privacy policies.

The new report, issued on Thursday, is based on a survey of 364 kids' apps available through Google Play and the Apple App Store.

The FTC also reported that around 13% of the apps examined offered "short form" disclosures about the sharing of personal information with third parties, in-app purchases, persistent identifiers, and other privacy-related factors.

"Whatever the reasons for the increase in direct links to kids’ app privacy policies, it’s a step in the right direction," FTC employees Kristin Cohen and Christina Yeung write in a blog post. "That said, a significant portion of kids’ apps still leave parents in the dark."

While Cohen and Yeung say they aren't sure what accounts for the improvement, they speculate that several factors could have contributed.

Among others, in 2012 California Attorney General Kamala Harris persuaded the major app platforms -- including Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon -- to require developers to post links to privacy policies if their apps collect personal data.

Cohen and Yeung also suggest that the FTC's new Children's Online Privacy Protection Act regulations might have influenced developers. Those rules restrict companies' ability to collect geolocation data from children under 13, or track them for ad purposes, without their parents' permission.

"Perhaps the renewed focus on kids’ privacy encouraged some app developers to be more transparent about their practices, regardless of whether their apps are covered by COPPA," they write.

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