Feds: Parents need more info on kids’ apps

WASHINGTON (AP) — Who is monitoring the apps that kids use on their phones? The government complained Thursday software companies producing games and other mobile applications aren’t telling parents what personal information is being collected from kids and how companies are using it.

Apps could quietly be collecting a child’s location, phone number, call logs and lists of friends, said a report by the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC blamed the companies that make the apps, and the stores that sell them, for failing to explain where that data might be recorded, for how long and who would have access to it.

“As gatekeepers of the app marketplace, the app stores should do more,” the report said. “This recommendation applies not just to Apple and Google, but also to other companies that provide a marketplace for kids’ mobile apps.”

Apple declined to comment on the FTC report. Google, which created the Android software, said it has an “industry-leading permission system” that tells consumers what data an app can access and requires user approval before installation. “Additionally, we offer parental controls and best practices for developers to follow when designing apps that handle user data,” Google said in a statement.

The FTC report signals a renewed interest by federal regulators who could pursue legal action against companies they accuse of violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. The law bans collecting and disclosing personal information for children under 13 without their parents’ consent.

The FTC is especially aggressive protecting the privacy rights of children. Last year a mobile app developer paid $50,000 last year to settle FTC charges that it violated the children’s privacy law.

That company, W3 Innovations, doing business as Broken Thumbs Apps, developed and distributed apps for the iPhone and iPods that allowed users to play games and share information online, according to the FTC. Several of the apps, including Emily’s Girl World and Emily’s Dress Up, were directed at children and encouraged them to email their comments, the commission’s complaint said. The FTC said the company collected and maintained thousands of email addresses from users of the apps.

The new FTC report does not identify any of the apps or software vendors that were part of its survey, which began last year. Using the word “kids,” the government searched Apple’s App Store and the Android Market and examined promotions for apps for word, math and number games and entertainment purposes. Most said they were for children. Prices ranged from free to about $10. The FTC said it found almost no relevant disclosures about data collection practices or information sharing on Apple’s service and only minimal information on just three of the Android promotion pages.

Tessa Donner of Evansville, Ind., bought her teenage daughter a smartphone because she wanted to be sure she could reach her, especially in an emergency. But she didn’t know that the mobile apps her daughter is able to download to the phone could act as hand-held spies.

“To know now that it could be unsafe, that is concerning,” she said.

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