Study shows thousands of apps in Google Play tracks kids' data illegally

Katie Ramirez
April 17, 2018

Researchers with the International Computer Science Institute claim to have discovered thousands of free Android apps on Google Play that track the location of children, serve up targeted ads to kids, and perform other functions that are potentially in violation of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). 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.

Citing the International Computer Science Institute research (ICSI), it said that more than half of 5,855 Android apps on Google Play were potentially violating United States privacy laws that protect children under 13 from invasive data collection.

Seven researchers analyzed almost 6,000 apps for children and found that the majority of them may be in violation of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA.

The potential violations were abundant and came in several forms, according to the study. 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. 40% of the apps also shared users' personal information without really applying security measures. The apps may appear to be violating COPPA or the terms of service of the Google Play Store, but it is up to the Federal Trade Commission and Google to determine the truth behind the violations.

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The researchers could not evaluate apps running on iPhones and iPads as they did not have access to Apple's iOS data. They added that it would not be hard for Google to augment their research to detect the apps and the developers that may be violating child privacy laws.

According to the "Korea Mobile Internet Industry Report 2017" published last month by the Korea Mobile Internet Business Association, Google Play accounted for around 60.7 percent of mobile app content sales past year, with most of the revenue coming from mobile games.

Google did not respond to a request for comment.

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