Parents Need More Information On Apps for Kids, Says FTC

February 22, 2012
Sarah Jackson
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, CA
CATEGORIES Common Sense Resources, Parents and Families, Policy, Research & Studies

A new report released by the Federal Trade Commission last week says companies like Apple and Android need to do more to protect the privacy of kids who use their mobile apps.

In "Mobile Apps for Kids: Current Privacy Disclosures are Disappointing," (pdf) the FTC looked at 8,000 mobile apps for kids at Apple’s iTunes stores and 3,800 sold for Android.

They found that these app makers did not provide enough information on how the app may collect information from young users or how that information may be shared or stored.

In “Zero to Eight: Children's Media Use in America,” a Common Sense Media research study released last year, we found that fully half of children under age 8 had access to a mobile device like a smartphone, a video iPod, or an iPad or other tablet.

Common Sense Media CEO Jim Steyer was widely quoted in the press last week calling for more support to help parents, educators, and teachers become smart digital consumers.

"While industry lobbyists are concerned about the burden that basic disclosure will place on mom and pop app developers," Steyer told The Associated Press, "we're worried about the burden for real moms and pops."

Steyer said the mobile app industry -- developers, stores, and wireless carriers – must provide parents (and kids) with the tools and information they need to monitor and protect their family’s privacy.

“How are parents supposed to make smart choices – and teach their kids to make smart choices – when so few apps provide basic privacy information and tools?” Steyer asked. “Until the leaders in this billion dollar industry step up and provide clear and simple information for parents and other consumers, this report provides just one more reason why we need a Do Not Track Kids law.”

The report called on app-makers to among other things, describe clearly their data collection practices, disclose whether and what social media services the app connects to, and whether the app includes advertisements.

But of course, the most important tool we can arm our kids with is helping them become smart digital consumers in their own right. [Our free Digital Literacy and Citizenship Curriculum and Parent Media & Technology Education Programs do just that.] Kids need to know what questions to ask when they download a new app and to be aware that the information they share online can often go beyond their intended targets.  We’ve also been hosting a series of town halls around the country with parents, caregivers, policymakers, and industry leaders to talk openly about the challenges facing kids today in a digital world, from cyberbullying to privacy and reputation management.

And of course we’ll continue to provide resources and reviews to help adults sort through the immense amount of media for kids so they can make educated choices in choosing media.

GeekDad blogger Daniel Donahoo gave us a plug in a piece he wrote last week at Wired about curating kids’ digital content, calling us, ahem “leaders in crowd-sourced digital media advice for parents” and our reviews “thoughtful and insightful”:

The breadth and ease of use of this site has made it an excellent resource for families. They also are producing some high quality research that looks at children’s media consumption and engagement, which helps drive the development of their own resources and educator tools that look at how we can best support children understand and use media and technology in productive ways.

Thanks, Daniel. We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

FTC | privacy | tracking | data | apps