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Children’s apps may collect data

Better Business Bureau issues a warning

As a new generation comes online, Connecticut Better Business Bureau warns parents that mobile applications for smart phones and tablets are siphoning children’s data and sharing it. In most cases, the applications’ developers do not disclose whether data is being collected, with whom it is being shared nor how it is used.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a study called “Mobile Apps for Kids — Disclosures Still Not Making the Grade,” nearly 60% of children’s applications available from the iTunes store and Google Play that were examined by researchers “failed to provide any information about the data collected through the app, let alone the type of data collected, the purpose of the collection and who would obtain access to the data.”

The data collected and shared can include the child’s location, telephone number, contacts, device ID, and other information contained in the mobile device. More worrying, according to the FTC, is that some applications offer the ability to make purchases and provide links to social media “without disclosing these features prior to download.”

The FTC study found that only 20% of the apps reviewed disclosed any privacy policies, almost 60% of them transmit information from the mobile device to advertisers, analytics companies and other third parties, and 22% contained links to social networking sites.

Connecticut Better Business Bureau recommends parents take steps to protect their children and families’ personal information:

  • Research before downloading — In view of the FTC’s conclusion that most children’s app developers are not giving parents adequate information, carefully review feedback from other consumers, not only at the download sites, but also through search engines.
  • Consider avoiding free apps — 58% of free apps that were studied were “ad-supported,” and typically lead to an app download site when clicked. Paid applications, which are not supported by advertising, usually cost between $1 and $10 — less expensive than most books and toys.
  • Control kids’ sharing — Determine whether applications allow young users to post their own content to social media sites and decide whether it is appropriate to allow your children to do so before downloading an app.

When it comes to protecting kids’ privacy, the FTC says it “hasn’t seen any progress” by application developers to address concerns about the lack of disclosure and data collection and use.

Connecticut Better Business Bureau recommends parents take the lead in ensuring their children are protected from advertisers and others who attempt to develop a detailed profile of their children’s behavior through the use of mobile applications.

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