Are Apps Violating Your Kid's Privacy?


(The Root) — I don't have any children, but I see it all the time: children as young as 2 or 3 tapping away on iPad touchscreens or parents handing over their smartphone to keep a child busy for a little while. While it still amazes me that children so young are already so technologically inclined, it should also worry parents that their kids don't understand all of the ramifications of their mobile behavior.

The Federal Trade Commission recently released a report detailing the ways in which children's information is collected and shared within mobile apps. After examining hundreds of apps, the FTC found that only 20 percent of them disclosed any sort of privacy policy at all. Almost 60 percent of the apps studied transmit user info back to the developer or to an advertising network or third party.

Some of that personal information can include phone numbers and geo-location data, which can easily fall into the wrong hands if a system gets hacked. The FTC is encouraging app developers to exercise more transparency in privacy policies and to give parents easier-to-understand information about what is collected and how it will be used before the app is downloaded.


In addition to privacy concerns, parents also have to worry about the marketing of in-app purchases. These purchases are typically made virtually while a child is playing a game and needs to "buy" additional credits to get to different levels of the game. To the child it may seem harmless, but parents may be in for a shock when they see iTunes or Google Play charges that could run in the hundreds of dollars on their credit card statement.

Unfortunately, until app developers are more forthcoming with their privacy policies, or government does more to regulate the process, the best thing parents can do to protect their child is to use the app themselves. Parents should handle the download and installation of any app their child will use and should navigate through the app to see if there are any instances when personal information is requested. And if you think in-app purchases may become an expensive problem, you can disable them on your child's smartphone altogether.

So before you let your kid go crazy on Angry Birds or any other app, do a little research yourself to make sure they're not at risk.  

Follow tech-life expert Stephanie Humphrey on Twitter.

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