Mobile apps for children secretly collect and share data, FTC says

Jessica Guynn / Los Angeles Times /


Published Dec 11, 2012 at 04:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

SAN FRANCISCO — A study from the Federal Trade Commission has found that most mobile apps for kids are secretly collecting information from children — including device IDs, phone numbers, locations and other private information — without their parents’ knowledge or consent.

Nearly 60 percent of the mobile apps the FTC reviewed from the Google Play and Apple App stores transmitted the device ID. They also often shared that ID with an advertising network, analytics company or another third party. Of those 235 mobile apps, 14 also transmitted the location of the device and the phone number, the FTC found.

More than half of the apps also contained interactive features, such as in-app purchases and advertising that were not disclosed to parents.

Because a large number of the apps sent information to a small number of third parties, those third parties could potentially develop detailed profiles of kids based on their behavior in the different apps, the study found.

Yet only 20 percent of the apps disclosed any information about their privacy practices.

“While we think most companies have the best intentions when it comes protecting kids’ privacy, we haven’t seen any progress when it comes to making sure parents have the information they need to make informed choices about apps for their kids. In fact, our study shows that kids’ apps siphon an alarming amount of information from mobile devices without disclosing this fact to parents,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a written statement.