Study says over 3000 apps on Google Play tracking children

17 April, 2018, 07:39 | Author: Sammy Rose

A study completed by seven researchers in the U.S. has found that thousands of free and popular apps on the Google Play Store for Android smartphones are violating a key privacy law in the country.

"Based on our automated analysis of 5,855 of the most popular free children's apps, we found that a majority are potentially in violation of COPPA, mainly due to their use of third-party SDKs".

Other crucial discoveries that were made under the study include 281 apps that collected the location or contact data of children without asking for permission from parents, and 1,100 apps that shared persistent identifying information that can be used for behavioral advertising methods that are banned to be used on children.

About 40 percent of apps transmitted info without using "reasonable security measures", and almost all 1,280 apps with Facebook tie-ins were not properly using the social network's code flags to limit under-13 use.

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Unfortunately for parents, there's little consumers can do to protect themselves since the policies and business practices of app developers and ad tracking companies are often opaque, Egelman said.

Amid the ongoing Facebook data leak row, a new study has said that over 3000 apps on Google Play have been improperly collecting data on children. The study here covers the data tracking activities of about 6,000 apps that are aimed at children, including Disney's Where's My Water, Gameloft's Minion Rush and Duolingo, an app to learn languages on your smartphone, reports the Washington Post. The findings also suggested that app creators that had been certified as COPPA-compliant were no better than any of the other apps at protecting children's privacy. However, there are still some gray areas under COPPA and some of the apps included in the research may not legally be subject to it since the law applies to online services "directly targeted" to children under 13 or they may have "actual knowledge" that their users are under 13.

The researchers note that Google has worked to enforce COPPA by requiring child-app developers to certify that they comply with the law.

Google has yet to respond to this study but they will probably have to explain why these apps were allowed to still publish on the Play Store. Will Google be able to address the data privacy problem before it further escalates?

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