Google 'Looking Into' Claims About Kid-Tracking Android Apps

Google 'Looking Into' Claims About Kid-Tracking Android Apps

"Overall, roughly 57% of the 5,855 child-directed apps that we analyzed are potentially violating COPPA", privacy experts from multiple United States universities wrote in a research paper they plan to present this summer at the Privacy Enhancing Technologies Symposium (PETS) in Barcelona, Spain. Children's apps have a different standard because of COPPA, and typically aren't allowed to track data without explicit parental consent.

The study found thousands of kid-targeted apps were collecting data from the device, some including Global Positioning System location and personal information.

Up to 235 apps were accessing the phone's Global Positioning System data - 184 of which transmitted the device's location to advertisers, according to the study.

Even for mobile games that were launched on One Store, there were cases where games became available on the One Store some period after it was already made available via Google and Apple's app marketplaces. Some of the apps named in the report include KidzInMind, TabTale's "Pop Girls-High School Band", and Fun Kid Racing. The CEO of Tiny Labs Productions, Jonas Abromaitis said that the researchers must have registered the age above 13 during the study.

Egelman denied that claim, and said that even if it were true, it wasn't relevant to the study. This implies that the back button will not show up when there is no use for it, like on the Homescreen.

Although the FTC did not explicitly state that they would investigate Google's abuse of market dominance, it seems that the FTC inquired whether or not Google committed unfair trade practices as the FTC caught some circumstantial evidence of Google's violations of law. The study also found that 40% of these apps shared personal information without proper security protocols, and 39% disregarded contractual obligations aimed at protecting children's privacy.

Concerns regarding data privacy have come into sharp focus after Cambridge Analytica was found to have used millions of user data sourced from Facebook and other apps using Facebook login.

We contacted Google for comment but the search giant has yet to respond. Shackleford advised being more proactive, "To really get ahead of the problem, though, parents should use software like FamilyTime to help keep a closer eye on the apps their kids are using, and make sure that private browsers and extensions-like DuckDuckGo and Privacy Badger-are the norm".

The study also discovered that 1,100 of these apps (that's 18.8 percent) send data using a software development kit that is not meant to be used with kids apps, and whose terms of service forbid it. Then, there were 2,281 apps transmitting Android Advertising IDs that Google directs the developers and SDKs to use as the sole persistent method of ad tracking.

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