How Do We Protect Kids’ Data in Mobile Apps?

More children, not teenagers, are using mobile devices.  Sometimes they use their parents’ gadgets but some lucky kids get their own.  Some parents don’t think much of it, but what they fail to consider is the danger they have put before their children.

Most of us know that when you download an app, it prompts you with a message that some of your personal information, even location, will be accessed.  Some people don’t even bother reading these prompts, but with hackers and malicious people lurking in every corner of cyberspace, who knows who’s getting your kid’s data or where they use the data they collect?

And this is what the Federal Trade Commission wants to address.

“Right now, it is almost impossible to figure out which apps collect data and what they do with it,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a statement. Companies must “provide easily accessible, basic information, so that parents can make informed decisions about the apps their kids use,” he said.

The FTC enforces the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule, also known as COPPA, which  requires operators of online services, including interactive mobile apps, to provide notice and get parental consent before collecting information from children under 13.  The problem here is, with more app developers creating tons of apps, app monitoring is next to impossible.

“While the mobile app marketplace keeps growing, mobile privacy keeps shrinking,” said James Steyer, chief executive officer of Common Sense Media, a San Francisco-based advocate for Internet safety for families.

“There are now more than 1 million mobile apps in the marketplace, but the FTC study shows that virtually none provides tools or information that help users manage their privacy and personal information.”

Even Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, voiced his concern about the matter, saying “it’s just plain common sense that, at the very minimum, parents should have the right to know what kind of information an app directed to their children collects, uses and shares before downloading it.”

Google’s spokesperson stated that they will look into the FTC’s report, while Apple declined to comment on the issue.

But according to the Association for Competitive Technology, which represents smaller app developers and tech firms, parents develop most 99 cent apps for kids to help them learn, and that many are unaware of existing privacy regulations.

The solution could be to create a team that would review new and old apps for privacy issues.  This will be time-consuming and would probably cost a great deal, but if we want to protect children, the government, as well as private companies, have to go the extra mile.  The FTC could create their own independent screening team, or Apple and Google could create teams of their own with the supervision of the FTC.