Two Democratic lawmakers are urging the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether Google misleads parents by falsely representing that childrens' apps on the Play Store comply with a federal privacy law.
“New research suggests that Google misleadingly markets children’s apps as compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act ... despite evidence that many of those apps illegally track children’s behavior and share their personal information without consent,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts and Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Florida) said Wednesday in a letter to the agency.
“The FTC must use its full authority to protect the interests of children, many of whom are increasingly online during the coronavirus pandemic," the lawmakers add.
The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act requires companies to obtain parental consent before collecting personal information from children younger than 13 -- including some pseudonymous data, such as persistent cookies and device identifiers.
The letter comes several weeks after the watchdogs Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and Center for Digital Democracy alleged to the FTC that “widespread” violations of the children's privacy law may still be occurring on child-directed apps available through Google Play.
Those groups referenced several outside studies, including one published in JAMA Pediatrics in September 2020. Researchers for that study examined 451 Android apps aimed at pre-schoolers, including 153 in the Google Play Store's family section. Two-thirds of all apps tested transmitted identifiers to marketing companies, while 46% of those in Google's “Designed for Families” section -- for apps aimed at children -- transmitted identifiers, according to the researchers.
Markey and Castor noted that study, writing that the results, along with other research, “casts significant doubt” on compliance by apps available on Google Play.