FTC on Mobile Apps: Will Android, Apple Please Think of the Children?

kid-iphone-child-smartphoneThe Federal Trade Commission has released the results of a staff report complaining that mobile applications for children lack privacy policies and disclosure.

FTC staff examined offerings in the Apple App Store and Android Marketplace, evaluating the apps specifically marketed for children, ranging from books, memory games and stories to flash cards and puzzles.

There were kiddie apps aplenty. Searching for the term "kids," it found more than 8,000 results in the Apple App Store and more than 3,600 in the Android Marketplace. The study compared the top 480 results in each store, ranging from alphabet and word games, math and number games, and memory games to books and stories, flash cards, and puzzles.

While these apps can capture a wide amount of information, the FTC found little information for parents contemplating a download.

The report, Mobile Apps for Kids: Current Privacy Disclosures Are Disappointing, said that neither app stores nor the app developers provide the information parents need to determine what data is being collected from their children, how it is being shared, or who will have access to it.

The report is timely. According to a survey released by Nielsen, in Q4 2011 seven out of every 10 children in tablet-owning households put their sticky fingers on the tablet. Fifty-seven percent of parents said their children used the tablet to access educational games, while 77 percent said kids played downloaded games. The majority used the portable gadget as a digital babysitter to keep children quiet while traveling or in restaurants.

In August 2011, W3 Innovations, LLC, doing business under the less-than-encouraging moniker Broken Thumbs, settled with the FTC on charges that it violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and the FTC’s COPPA Rule by illegally collecting and disclosing personal information from children under age 13 without their parents’ prior consent in games including Emily's Dress Up & Shop and Emily's Girl World.

Announcing today's report, the FTC warned that in the next six months, it will review whether other mobile apps are violating COPPA.