Parents do have a reason to be concerned with the things their children do on their smartphones, but it seems we have an even bigger concern with what the apps are doing with your children’s personal information.
The US Federal Trade Commission released a study this month on children’s apps, and the findings are very unsettling.
It seems hundreds of very popular apps for tablets and smartphones are sharing personal information with third parties, information without asking permission or notifying parents about their data collection practices.
In this day and age, with smartphones connecting us and our kids to the Internet wherever we go, with social networking services like Facebook making it all to easy to share more personal information that we want, and apps like Instagram announcing they own all photos you take with their app (and they can and will use those as they see fit), the job of protecting our children’s identity is becoming harder and harder. And protecting their personal information is akin to keeping them safe from harm in the real world. Keeping them safe from harm online and off is an important job for all parents.
However, it’s difficult to do this – even if we instill in our children the need to be careful about what they share about themselves online (using privacy settings, not telling people they don’t know or haven’t met in person personal details, etc) – when companies share our children’s information without our knowledge or permission.
These apps may contain links to social networking services, undisclosed advertising, and offer your child the chance to buy extra app content. They also often share the phone number, the device’s unique ID number, precise location of the person, and other personal details with third parties.
Who are these third parties? Advertisers, app developers, marketers, the kind of people who want to earn money from your child, and all this information being collected tell them exactly what they need to know to target market and target advertise to your child. Since phone numbers and locations and device IDs are being shared, the information is clearly available for people to contact and track your child across websites and apps. All without your knowledge or consent.
This kind of thing is bad enough if it’s done to adults, but with children it’s scary and completely unacceptable. It’s a breach of privacy, especially when no one gave consent.
The study also said that only one in five apps from both the Android and the Apple app stores disclosed information about their data collection ways.
Of course, we all know from the mysterious emails we get from sites and companies we never subscribed to that many businesses and social networking platforms are less than forthcoming about with whom they share our information with. I know I’m forever unsubscribing to newsletters that I never read, never subscribed to and never had any interest in. It’s annoying, but to think the same thing may be happening to our children, who are way more susceptible to advertising is much more sinister.
I know apps like FeelSecure do not share any information with anyone, but what about some of the popular children’s apps? Even the fact some of them allow your child to play virtual games with adults in real time is a concern.
Obviously, with technology, remaining completely private and anonymous and cyber footprint free is impossible, other than tossing the tech out the window…but we should be able to do something to minimise risks.
The best and easiest way to start is to keep a very close eye on the apps your child has, and check them out yourself, and read the small print.