Researchers find thousands of Android applications improperly tracking children's data

Sheri Evans
April 17, 2018

The collection of data by any such app doesn't necessarily mean that the app is violating Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), but none of these apps has obtained required consent from parents that could be verified.

Children's apps typically have different standards of tracking data.

"However, the FTC has just been through [an] earthquake-like wake up call, given the revelations that Facebook allowed companies like Cambridge Analytica to seize data on 87 million people ..."

In other wards, most of these apps track kids in ways explicitly banned by United States law.

A recent study of Android apps conducted by researchers from the International Computer Science Institute shows that thousands of Android apps may be tracking the online activity of children as well as their personal information which is a violation of U.S. privacy laws. Given the dominance of the Google App platform and the interest young children have in apps, it's not practical for a parent to have to spend time trying to decipher the complex connections that drive the ad supported App industry.

"Overall, roughly 57% of the 5,855 child-directed apps that we analyzed are potentially violating COPPA", privacy experts from multiple USA universities wrote in a research paper they plan to present this summer at the Privacy Enhancing Technologies Symposium (PETS) in Barcelona, Spain.

This study could monitor when data is first accessed and where it is sent, according to the published report.

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He said: "Fake mobile apps imitate the look or functionality of legitimate apps, such as banking or popular game apps, to trick users into downloading them". Google's emphasis remains on its consumer Maps app, he said, while Mapbox exclusively focuses on developer tools. Of 5,855 free children's apps, 73 percent "transmitted sensitive data over the Internet".

Egelman denied that claim, and said that even if it were true, it wasn't relevant to the study. This implies that the back button will not show up when there is no use for it, like on the Homescreen.

Around 4.8% of the apps studied were in clear violation of sharing location or contact information without consent, while 18% shared identifiers for target advertising.

Thousands of Android apps on the Google Play store have been found to be collecting sensitive data on children, researchers have found.

When we asked Shackelford if iOS is better for kids than Android, he said "No platform is ideal, but parents should be aware that, on average, iOS does have advantages in both privacy and security over Android".

It connects your device to an offsite secure server and uses an encrypted connection to keep your data safe on that connection.

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