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FTC Says Mobile Apps Are Illegally Collecting Childrens' Data

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A new staff report by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has found that many mobile device apps designed specifically for children are secretly storing information about users without parental permission. In the study "Mobile Apps for Kids: Disclosures Still Not Making the Grade" the FTC reports that of the 400 popular apps they investigated nearly 60 percent transmitted the user's device ID, often sharing the information with third party companies. Government and industry regulators are concerned that marketers could use the unique device IDs to follow individual children's actions across multiple applications, allowing them to compile detailed dossiers about their activities. 14 of the reviewed apps even transmitted the phones location and phone number.

The report comes as part of a continued drive to urge app developers to disclose their privacy practices to parents in order to allow them to make informed decisions for their children's privacy and safety. Only 20 percent of the reviewed apps disclosed any information about their privacy policies prior to download.

According to the LA Times federal regulators have previously called upon Apple and Google, the two largest app stores, to track the data collection and sharing policies of developers who use their stores to market mobile apps to children. The FTC, however, has faced resistance from the companies who have lobbied government to exempt them from responsibilities pertaining to privacy violations by independent app developers. Catherine Novelli, Apple's company director of privacy, pressed the FTC on November 7th to exempt the company from responsibilities, arguing that Apple can't control the kinds of data that apps collect and thus cannot keep third party developers accountable to the regulations of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (Coppa)

Last year the FTC charged app developer W3 innovations, which develops childrens games for the iPhone and iPod touch, for illegally collecting and disclosing the personal data of thousands of children without their parents' permission.

Calls for privacy readjustments and greater transparency for parents are also being made by consumer activist groups who are pushing for self-regulation within the market. Consumer Action, one such group from San Francisco, California suggests that developers are beginning to see the market advantages of transparency. Michelle De Moov, senior associate at Consumer Action, believes clear privacy policies are good for both consumers and commerce- "I think app developers see the market advantage to this, the goal is to provide transparency that the consumers, who after all are the customer of the apps, have asked for."

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  1. …many mobile device apps designed specifically for children are secretly storing information about users without parental permission.

    Why would anyone want to collect data on children. Kids are idiots. Talk to one sometime.

    1. And adults are any better? Adults are running the country, but you’d think it was little kids for how messed up things are.

    2. Why would anyone want to collect data on children. Kids are idiots. Talk to one sometime.

      Children are idiots for as long as they are largely because of what’s expected of them, or rather what isn’t. There used to be a guy who posted under “End Childhood Unemployment.” I had a t-shirt made up with that on it, front and back.

      1. ^This. Modern childhood, largely free of responsibility and duties, only existed when we became a post-agrarian, urban society.

        1. In Socialism, everybody works.

      2. In some African countries kids are expected to sling an AK-47 across the handle bars of a BMX bike and ride to the sound of the guns.

    3. Yes, but their browsing history is gold to toy-makers.

      In the end, the toys I buy my kids are ones that they will play with, meaning that I pay attention to what they want. And knowing that preference is gold to toymakers so that they can focus on making shit that people will actually pay for.

    4. Actually, I’m usually surprised at how insightful and self aware kids are when I talk to them.

      1. Ever notice how zombie-like and unintelligent little kids sound in commercials? Its like they deliberately seek ‘cute’ speech impediments in their casting.

    5. “Why would anyone want to collect data on children.”

      Two words. “I want”

  2. Um, isn’t this exactly the sort of thing that the government is doing with TIA-style data mining and GPS tracking?

    1. What? Are you saying that there are different standards for government employees than there are for muggles?

    2. It’s different. Children don’t consent to anything.

      By declining to slit your wrists while lying in a warm bath, you *have* consented to the government owning all your property, income and having access to any information generated by your interactions with the world. Haven’t you been paying attention?

      1. I have, and tarran is exactly right.

      2. And if you do slit your wrists you are also consenting to all of those things. So… buttons?

  3. Government and industry regulators are concerned that marketers could use the unique device IDs to follow individual children’s actions across multiple applications, allowing them to compile detailed dossiers about their activities.

    Government and industry regulators are concerned that marketers and private industry are moving in on their turf.

    1. Yes, I get very, very annoyed when anyone brings up this data-mining/tracking biz about marketers. Who gives a fuck? I mean look, I have a West Elm ad up on this page right now because someone knows where I buy my dopey throw pillows. SO SCARY!

      1. That’s pretty dopey.

        1. THEY ARE BEAUTIFUL AND MARITIME-THEMED.

          1. CHICAGO IS NOWHERE NEAR THE OCEAN.

      2. Throw pillows … go on…

      3. Yeah, I keep getting ads for Frederick’s of Hollywood. Don’t know how that happened.

        It is sickening that they make marketing data sound scary, while collecting info to throw people in prison is just totally cool.

        1. Duh BP, only bad people go to prison. If you’re not doing anything wrong, you don’t have anything to worry about. Except being creeped out by businesses trying to provide you with more efficient services.

        2. Well, don’t forget that all that info is available to the prison-senders on demand, without a warrant in many cases, as long as some LEO or regulator says the magic patriot act incantation.

  4. FTC Says Mobile Apps Are Illegally Collecting Childrens’ Data

    “This one kid searched ‘boobs’ 308,000 times.”

    1. “…and his Calc app has processed ‘80085 + 0’ half as much.”

  5. the FTC reports that of the 400 popular apps they investigated nearly 60 percent transmitted the user’s device ID,

    So… when my daughter plays “Tiny Monsters” on my phone, it’s transmitting her dad’s device ID. Check.

  6. Boy, this is all breathless and shit. Did you know that if you turn Location Services to ‘on’ on your phone, that location services are on, which means applications can transmit your location- be they children’s apps or adult apps? Yeah.

    The people who compiled this report know nothing of technology, and should be asked to sit in the corner, quietly, while the adults talk.

    1. What’s this RemoteControl/V-Chip/FilteringSoftware nonsense of which you speak?

  7. This is an issue with all kinds of apps. It is extremely difficult prior to installing apps to determine exactly what kind of information is being collected, and why. If an app requests access to my device ID and full internet access, contacts, etc. I usually don’t download it. I think there would be a great market for a certification process that allows users to vet apps prior to purchase/download, and for developers to assure their customers they are not compromising personal data. And those assurances need to be trustworthy and violators held accountable.

    I am very disappointed that there are so few useful apps that one can pay for and be assured that personal info is not being leaked. I’m tired of the new software revenue models that sell customer metadata. I’d rather pay for an app and maybe an update service and be assured that is the last interaction I need ever have witg the developer.

    1. Yeah, but everyone else expects everything online to be free now.

  8. I have an idea, how about we tell the FTC to report to us what government collects about us, how often warrantless wiretapping catches us up in the dragnet that is Federal Government surveillance? Not interested in that? No, only interested to know that William Sonoma has a ‘dossier’ on my Waffle Iron purchasing activities. Fuck this is small potatoes in a world where Obama is listening to my phone calls.

    1. Preach on, Paul, preach on.

    2. Look over there, Paul! It’s Elvis!

      1. You’re just jealous that Obama isn’t listening to your phone calls.

    3. It may be small potatoes in comparison but why is it so difficult to find out what you’re buying or even what you’re paying? Surely a libertarian principle is that markets work best when information is readily available about transactions. I’m not asking for regulation. I just would like some app developer somewhere to charge me a fee once, guve me an app or a service, and then go the fuck away until I’m ready to send them more money for something else.

      1. I’m not against the notion that maybe developers can do a better job of disclosing what they send, when they send it and and how often.

        I think what kind of annoys me is that we have this institution called The Media which (over the last few years) has had a tendency to go apeshit, and do fifteen-part series on how Eeevilll Korporashuns are storing our precious purchasing habits for targeted marketing.

        You remember how the media went apeshit when Facebook was showing banner ads for Gay Resorts to Gay people who were doing searches for Gay Resorts?

        I guess maybe I’m just wishing for better prioritization from the media.

        Government listening to your phone calls and reading your email because… just in case: Red Letter Priority UNO, Ring-the-Town-Church-Bells, sound-the-air-raid-siren alert.

        Police asking for internet service providers to retain IP messages and cell providers to retain text messages for eleventy thousand years because…just in case: Priority 2, no longer trust any politician ever again.
        […]
        TinyCo collecting a device ID and knowing that you were standing on a particular street when you played Tiny Monsters (accuracy ~13,000′): Priority 13.

        1. You remember how the media went apeshit when Facebook was showing banner ads for Gay Resorts to Gay people who were doing searches for Gay Resorts?

          My favorite is the more recent meme that targeted advertising is actually discriminatory. Affluent people who see ads targeted to them for things they might actually buy have an unfair advantage if poor people never see those ads and thus never have the opportunity to buy those things. Or something.

          1. Trying to make sense of that just eliminated 30-40% of my cerebral mass.

            1. This article should take care of the remaining 60-70%.

              1. “Online consumers are being bought and sold like chattel,” says Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy

                See how that’s worded? And what? “Center for Digital Democracy”? Let me guess, I haven’t looked these people up, but I smell a group that believes in Net Neutrality, and also believe that each and every one of us should suffer enjoy the same online experience, because anything less is… undemocratic. This is exactly what I’m talking about.

                No, Mr. Chester, consumers are NOT being sold like chattel. Mouseclicks are being sold like chattel. What the online world actually knows about you as a person, as an individual would probably strike most people as surprisingly small.

                I did a “spokeo” search on myself and I was far more interested in what they had about me that was wrong as opposed to what they had right.

                Yes, one of the dozen addresses they had for me was correct, because I bought a house and those records are online to the public via… wait for it… King County Government. After that, it was pretty thin gruel. For instance, they had NO idea how often I did searches on Gay Resorts.

              2. Jeff Chester Reports on Digital Media and the Public Interest

                Ahh, yes, another guy I’ve never met before who has appointed himself as the arbiter of what’s in the Public Interest.

                As the Executive Director of the Center for Good Things that People Want, he can go bugger off.

  9. Boy. Sometimes (well, almost all the time) I’m really glad I don’t have kids.

    1. It’s not as if there aren’t plenty of parents willing to lend you their kids if you REALLY get the urge to have a catch or lay down some life lessons.

  10. Fuck the FTC. Anyone remember Snyder-Utz?

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