Thousands of Android apps may be illegally tracking children, study finds

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Thousands of free, popular children's apps available on the Google Play Store could be violating child privacy laws. Seven researchers analyzed nearly 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.  Thousands of the tested apps collected the personal data of children under age 13 without their parent's permission, the study found. “This is a market failure,” said Serge Egelman, a co-author of the study and the director of usable security and privacy research at the International Computer Science Institute at the University of California, Berkeley. “The rampant potential violations that we have uncovered points out basic enforcement work that needs to be done.” The potential violations were abundant and came in several forms, according to the study. More than 1,000 children's apps collected identifying information from kids using tracking software whose terms explicitly forbid their use for children's apps, the study found. The researchers also said that nearly half the apps fail to always use standard security measures to transmit sensitive data over the Web, suggesting a breach of reasonable data security measures mandated by COPPA. Each of the 5,855 apps under review was installed more than 750,000 times, on average, according to the study.

Unfortunately for parents, there's little consumers can do to protect themselves since the policies and business practices of app developers and ad tracking companies are often opaque, Egelman said. The study also points to a breakdown of so-called self-regulation by app developers who claim to abide by child privacy laws, as well as by Google, which runs the Android platform, he said.


Thousands of Android apps may be illegally tracking children, study finds