Privacy and Mobile Apps for Kids

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Canadian Privacy Commissioners have expressed concerned regarding the collection and use of personal information from children. In the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s 2010 Report on Consultations on Online Tracking, Profiling and Targeting, and Cloud Computing, released in May 2011, the Privacy Commissioner stated:

“[...] the OPC is of the view that baseline standards need to be developed to support parents and educators in terms of knowing that children’s personal information is being protected. A framework needs to be put in place that will better inform parents and educators and, ultimately, will better protect the personal information of children [...]“

South of the border, the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently issued a staff report regarding the adequacy of privacy practices disclosures in the mobile app market for kids.

Although the report was focused on disclosures of privacy practices, the FTC stated that it will be conducting additional investigations to determine whether any of the mobile apps violate the U.S. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA). COPPA regulates the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information from children and generally requires verifiable parental consent to the collection, use and disclosure of such personal information.

Regarding privacy practices disclosure, the FTC Staff report concluded that:

  • there was insufficient disclosure of the data collection, data sharing and interconnectivity of mobile apps for children;
  • parents should not have to navigate to lengthy privacy policies and terms of use to determine whether personal information is being collected and used;
  • disclosure should be provided prior to downloading and use because by that point the child may already be using the app and the parent may have already been charged a fee; and
  • icons and short disclosures should be used to alert parents if the mobile app (a) permits information to be shared with social media, (b) allows “in-app” advertising to occur, or (c) permits “in-app” purchases.

On the subject of “in-app” advertising, the FTC raised three concerns with what it assessed was an inadequate level of disclosure:

  • parents may want to limit the data collected by advertisers and ad networks about their children;
  • even if the advertising is not based on any information collected from the child, parents may want to limit their children’s exposure to ads; and
  • parents may not want children to be able to call numbers or visit websites appearing on in-app advertisements.

In Canada, mobile app developers and marketers should seek legal advice regarding, among other things, the Quebec Consumer Protection Act restrictions on advertising to children. With few exceptions, Quebec prohibits commercial advertising directed at persons under 13 years of age.

Categories: Canada, Consumer Protection, Privacy, United States