18 April, 2018
Only a week after it was alleged that YouTube violated U.S. laws that protect children's online privacy, a study has claimed a majority of popular free children's apps in the Google Play Store are also in breach of these rules.
However, it is up to regulatory bodies like the FTC whether or not the developers of these Android apps will be held guilty of violating children privacy laws.
To conduct the study, researchers modified Android's permission system to enable the real-time monitoring of apps' access to protected resources (like location data, address book contacts, etc.) and instrumented all the functions in the Android platform that access these sensitive resources.
"Although we can not know the true number of children's apps in the Play Store, we believe that our results are representative, given that the apps that we examined represent the most popular free ones", the study, first spotted by Engadget, concluded.
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The researchers found many were not complying with COPPA because they did not attain "verifiable parental consent".
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For example, developers creating apps that span wide audiences might legitimately collect data from adults but struggle to avoid harvesting children's data.
The reason for uncertainty regarding the exact numbers is because there is no concrete, widely agreed upon criteria for determining what apps are for children. What's surprising though is that numerous older versions like Android Lollipop (5.0 and 5.1) still hold a combined market share of 22.9 percent, and Android KitKat, which was released nearly five years ago, still powers 10.5 percent of the devices. Thus, for now, all parents could do is to make sure that their children are using apps safely and logged in carefully. While the Android apps tracking kids' online activity are unethical in their own way, the bigger problem might be with COPPA, which is not stringent enough to check on these possible violations. "Yet, we observed them transmitting hardware and network configuration details to a Chinese analytics company called TalkingData", the report said.
Fun Kid Racing alone has more than 10 million downloads, according to the app page. In 2016, the ad network InMobi was fined United States dollars 1 million for gathering the location of users - including children - without proper consent.
In 2014, Google allowed people to reset their Android Advertising ID, which gave them better control on how online services track their data.
"We're taking the researchers' report very seriously".