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Thousands of Android apps are tracking kids

16 April 2018

Google Korea said it could not provide official comment on this issue.

Google Play is full of Android apps that track kids' online activity, thus violating the US privacy laws such as COPPA, claims a survey from a team of university researchers and computer scientists, according to Gizmodo.

Shockingly, a total of 57 percent of the apps studied appeared to be in potential violation of COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a 1998 law that looks to safeguard the privacy of users under the age of 13. 3,337 of those apps were found to be engaging in improper collection, with 281 of them bagging contact and/or location info without asking for parental approval.

Almost all of the 1,280 apps (92%) with Facebook tie-ins were not properly using the social network's systems to prevent under-13 use.

A team of university researchers and computer scientists, with the help of an automatic assessment of the privacy behaviors of the Android apps, arrived at a conclusion that of the 5,855 apps in the Play Store's Designed for Families program, almost 28 percent accessed the sensitive information protected by Android permissions and almost 73 percent of the applications transmitted the sensitive information over the internet.

The study also discovered that 1,100 of these apps (that's 18.8 percent) send data using a software development kit that is not meant to be used with kids apps, and whose terms of service forbid it.

What Can Google Do About It?

"The researchers published their findings in a study (PDF) titled, "'Won't Somebody Think of the Children'?

Activists have been pressuring the Federal Trade Commission in the recent months to take action against a number of large corporations they allege are illegally directing ad-targeting tools at children, including YouTube and Disney.

The FTC's investigation came after major mobile games - including NCSoft's "Lineage M" and Netmarble Games' "Lineage 2 Revolution" - were launched in Korea past year via Google Play and Apple's App Store, but not One Store. Google, however, will have to mount a gargantuan effort to solve the problem. That was all done through automated methods, and it is possible that some of the apps in the question were not collecting information in ways that violate COPPA.

With thousands of Android apps added to the Google Play Store daily, it may be hard for Google to manually inspect all the apps to make sure that no laws are being broken.

Thousands of Android apps are tracking kids