FTC: Mobile app industry failing on privacy disclosures in kids' apps

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The mobile app industry has made little or no apparent progress to improve privacy disclosures in kids' apps, says the Federal Trade Commission.

For the report (.pdf), released Dec. 10, the FTC surveyed kids' apps in Apple and Google's app stores. A majority of the apps transmitted information from the device to the developer or a third party, such as an advertiser or analytics company. But barely 20 percent of the apps disclosed any information about the app's privacy practices, the FTC says.

To do the survey, FTC staff searched the keyword "kids" in the two app stores, then randomly selected 200 apps from each store out of the first 480 results of the search. They downloaded the 400 total apps and looked for disclosures related to privacy and other issues.

Of the downloaded apps, 230 contained ads, but only 59 indicated prior to download that there would be ads. Eighty-eight contained links to social networks, but only 36 disclosed that prior to download.

Additionally, 66 of the apps featured the ability to buy virtual goods inside the app. The indicators about in-app purchasing that appear prior to download may be hard for parents to understand if they even notice them, the report says.

The FTC recommends that the app industry incorporate disclosure into the design of mobile products, give parents easy-to-understand choices, and provide more transparency about data collection.

The agency says it plans to issue consumer education to help parents sort through issues that arise in kids' apps.

It also says it's launching investigations to determine whether mobile app providers have violated the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. The FTC does not disclose the subject of an investigation before it comes out with a complaint or settles an issue, though.

For more:
- download the report, "Mobile Apps for Kids: Disclosures Still Not Making the Grade" (.pdf)

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