US watchdog slams mobile apps for collecting data

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US watchdog slams mobile apps for collecting data

Nearly 60 percent of apps send user data back to developers.

Children's privacy continues to be violated by applications in Apple's App Store and Google's Android Play market, according to a United States Federal Trade Commission survey. (pdf)

The December FTC report is a follow-up to an earlier one from February this year called Mobile Apps for Kids: Current Privacy Disclosures are Disappointing, and the FTC notes little has changed in the intervening period.

The US watchdog found that "little or no information was available to parents about the privacy practices and interactive features" of the mobile apps in the survey, prior to making a download.

The FTC called on app stores and developers as well as third-parties that interact with the apps to provide greater transparency about their data usage practices.

In the new survey, the FTC tested what the apps do and compared this with what was disclosed.

It looked at if the apps included interactive features and shared information with third parties without parents being told and found that many do so currently.

Nearly 60 percent of apps transmit information from users' devices back to the developer, or to advertising networks, analytics companies and similar third-parties, the FTC report says.

Since the information collected from a large number of users and devices is received by a relatively small set of third-party companies, these could potentially develop detailed profiles of children based on their behaviours in different apps, the report found.

Only one in five apps disclosed any information about privacy practices, and while 58 percent contain advertising, only 15 percent of apps disclosed this before downloading takes place.

"While we think most companies have the best intentions when it comes protecting kids’ privacy, we haven’t seen any progress when it comes to making sure parents have the information they need to make informed choices about apps for their kids," FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a statement.

"In fact, our study shows that kids' apps siphon an alarming amount of information from mobile devices without disclosing this fact to parents," Leibowitz said.

Leibowitz is calling on companies to do a better job protecting children's privacy. Another survey will be conducted in future to measure progress.

FTC is also launching non-public investigations to determine if certain entities in the mobile app marketplace are violating the US Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act or engaging in unfair or deceptive practices in violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act.

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