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FTC still not satisfied with kid app privacy

Only 20% of the 400 children’s apps the FTC analyzed “provided disclosures about their data collection practices,” the New York Times reported today – and the apps that did linked to long, dense privacy policies that few users could comprehend. The Federal Trade Commission’s announcement does not surprise; it’s an update of the Commission’s report last February (see this). But it says “little or no progress has been made” and seems intended to send the message that mobile and tablet apps will be part of the FTC’s revisions to COPPA (the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act), expected to be announced shortly. But COPPA or no, though, two reports on the subject in one year certainly suggests growing federal impatience.

Half of the apps the Commission examined were for Apple devices and half for Android ones. Not only did most of them fail to say what they were doing with users’ information, but “even more troubling,” the FTC says, is that “the results showed that many of the apps shared certain information – such as device ID, geolocation, or phone number – with third parties without disclosing that fact to parents.” So the Commission is calling on the mobile app industry to offer parents “easy-to-understand choices,” to bake privacy into app design, and to be more transparent about “how data is collected, used, and shared through kids’ apps.” Here’s the FTC’s report, “Mobile Apps for Kids: Disclosures Still Not Making the Grade.”

I think parents’ takeaway is that – no matter what the government or industry do – don’t develop a false sense of security. No law, regulation, or even transparent privacy policy can provide 100% guaranteed privacy or safety in today’s user-driven media environment.

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