Thousands of apps illegally collecting information on kids

Study: Apps violate Children's Online Privacy Protection Act

By Jane King, Erin Fisher

The smartphone apps your children are using may be doing more than keeping them busy, according to a lengthy international study.

Researchers from the International Computer Science Institute analyzed 5,855 of the most popular free Android apps targeted at kids and families. The team found that the majority of those apps are tracking data on kids in violation of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, a federal law that regulates data collection from users who are under 13 years old.

The independent, nonprofit research organization downloaded top apps targeted toward kids (downloaded an average of 750,000 times) from November 2016 to March 2018, running them for about 10 minutes to simulate an actual user.

The study found 57% of those kid-targeted apps were collecting data from the device, some including GPS location and personal information. 

Popular examples include the Disney puzzle game Where's My Water?, the language learning app Duolingo and the running game Minion Rush.

People often give apps permission for ad-tracking in exchange for free service. Children's apps have a different standard because of COPPA, and typically aren't allowed to track data without explicit parental consent.

Concern over data privacy has come into focus following Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal, with people and lawmakers taking a closer look into how much information technology companies have on them.

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