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Thousands of Android apps are tracking your kids

17 April 2018

Researcher have discovered a range of worrying potential privacy issues in thousands of kids' apps. YouTube, which Google also owns, was is the subject of a complaint filed earlier this month in which privacy groups said it was also violating COPPA.

The researchers found many were not complying with COPPA because they did not attain "verifiable parental consent". However, as this study portrays, it likely attempts to dodge the regulations to deliver targeted ads to children remain rampant online.

Included within the data, over 2,200 applications were identified to be sharing "persistent identifiers, which breaches Google's terms and conditions by allowing information to be associated with individual users over time, across applications, platforms and even devices".

The study noted an egregious example from app developer TinyLab. Shackleford advised being more proactive, "To really get ahead of the problem, though, parents should use software like FamilyTime to help keep a closer eye on the apps their kids are using, and make sure that private browsers and extensions-like DuckDuckGo and Privacy Badger-are the norm". The study also found that 40% of these apps shared personal information without proper security protocols, and 39% disregarded contractual obligations aimed at protecting children's privacy. One of the much-talked about features of Android P is its support for display "cutouts", which is nothing but support for iPhone X-like notch on top of the screen. "Yet, we observed them transmitting hardware and network configuration details to a Chinese analytics company called TalkingData", the report said. The company has 82 apps in this category, such as "Fun Kid Racing" and "Motocross Kids".

There are steep consequences for companies that violate COPPA - the Federal Trade Commission fined Yelp $450,000 for doing so in 2014. In 2016, the ad network InMobi was fined United States dollars 1 million for gathering the location of users - including children - without proper consent.

This not only includes name, usernames, and emails, but also geo-location data, IP addresses, and other identity markers that could be used to track children online and link them to advertising IDs.

Josh Golin of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood said the research points to a clear need for better COPPA enforcement.

Thousands of Android apps are tracking your kids