FTC Staff: Parents Aren't Getting Enough Info On Kid-Targeted Mobile Apps

The Federal Trade Commission says app stores and
developers are not providing parents with the info they need to determine what
data is being collected from their kids and how it is being used. The
commission also said it would be conducting a review of mobile apps to see
whether some violate the Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA).

FTC released a staff report Thursday based on a survey of mobile apps for kids
in the Apple and Android app stores, the two largest app outlets.

is almost impossible to figure out which apps collect data and what they do
with it," said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. "The kids app ecosystem
needs to wake up, and we want to work collaboratively with industry to help
ensure parents have the information they need."

to the report, Mobile Apps for Kids: Current Privacy Disclosures Are Disappointing.
Its conclusion: "[T]here was almost no information about the data
collection and sharing on the Apple App store promotion pages and little
information beyond general permission statements on the Android Market
promotion pages."

report recommended simple and short disclosures of data practices, and taking
responsibility for ensuring that parents get that basic information. "[T]e
stores provide architecture for sharing pricing and category data," the
report points out, "and should be able to provide a way for developers to
provide information about their data collection and sharing practices."

"requires operators of online services, including interactive mobile apps,
to provide notice and get parental consent prior to collecting information from
children under 13." Within the net six months, the report says, "FTC
staff will conduct an additional review to determine whether some mobile apps
were violating COPPA."

Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) has been a leading voice
for protection of kids' privacy online and pushed the FTC in a hearing last Mayto do more about mobile apps.
At the time, FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection Director David Vladeck said the
FTC had gotten the message, and pointed out it had already assembled a team to
focus on app stores and mobile platforms and was looking at mobile implications
as a regular part of its investigations.

report is a wake-up call that Congress should pass a privacy 'Bill of Rights'
to protect all consumers online," said Jeffrey Chester, executive director
of the Center for Digital Democracy, which has pushed hard for online privacy
protections for kids and adults. "It's time Congress put a stop of these
"wild west" mobile data collection practices.  Consumers face
new risks to their privacy as their mobile devices increasingly share their
personal information with third parties." Chester was a driving
force behind passage of COPPA.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), former chairman of the House Telecom Subcommittee and author of COPPA, praised the report. "I applaud the Federal Trade Commission for their attention to the issue of children's privacy and mobile applications," he said in a statement. "This report rightfully identifies the lack of information available to parents prior to downloading mobile applications for their kids and provides common-sense recommendations to application developers, stores and the mobile device industry for improving disclosure policies and practices. Parents need information so they can make informed decisions about their children."

Markey pressed the FTC on the issue of apps and kids/teens in a Feb. 2011 letter. He has also sponsored the Do Not Track Kids Act of 2011 which contains a Digital Marketing Bill of Rights that includes that "stipulates that web sites, online apps operators and operators of mobile apps directed to teens clearly explain why they need to collect the data to operate the app or service, requires them to collect only as much information as necessary, and ensure that the data is safeguarded."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.