Thousands of Android apps are tracking kids

Noel Cummings
April 17, 2018

The study raises the question of whether industry self-regulation is enough.

It added: "Unlockd's legal counsel has confidence that the threats made by Google to withdraw access and the supply of services in respect of Google Play and AdMob represent an abuse of its dominant position and breach of competition rules".

The researchers found that potential privacy violations came in different forms. Some of the apps named in the report include KidzInMind, TabTale's "Pop Girls-High School Band", and Fun Kid Racing. The blog post did not provide more information concerning the design change on the upcoming version of Android. Even though Google requires developers to certify compliance, the study found that enforcement was either lacking or non-existent. But researchers believe that it is up to the regulators to decide. It also appears many of these apps are the equivalent of a auto cobbled together with spare parts lying around; developers just find code that solves the problem, bolt it onto their app, and ignore the giant booklet of warnings that comes with it.

Enacted in 1999, COPPA aims to protect children's privacy online. According to the Act, proper approval from parents is needed to access the data of children under the age of 13 but without any such consent, protruding the Android security, some data were accessed while some were spread from one system to another through the internet.

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The apps targeted at children, were downloaded 750,000 times, on an average. After the analysis of over five thousand kids and family focused apps, it is proved that about 19 percent of the apps share sensitive information to third-party services whose terms of services forbid them to use kid's app, as they are engaged in behavioral advertising.

"We're taking the researchers' report very seriously and looking into their findings", a Google spokesperson said.

Although the report does not mention an exact number, it talks about at least one gesture - swipe up from the bottom to bring out multitasking/recently opened apps - that's under the works. They found that few apps are actually certified under Safe Harbor and of those that are "potential violations are prevalent".

Overall, the study cites several significant issues with where things stand today.

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There is hope, however. According to COPPA, using the behavioural advertising techniques on children is prohibited in the US.

The play store has a section called "Designed for Families". But it's easy to forget that Facebook is far from the only company collecting our data, or that any American under 13 is supposed to have strict privacy protections.

Egelman said, "If a robot can click-through their consent screen, which caused the sharing of data, children that do not understand what they are agreeing to can do the same".

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