BBB Report Offers Insights Into Teens’ Privacy In Mobile Apps

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"In a world where teens are restricted from driving, voting, and making other decisions regarding their autonomy, why does the assumption exist that they can properly manage their own data privacy?"  asks the Better Business Bureau Teenage privacy program in new research.

"Research shows that a teen's drive for greater engagement on digital media platforms exposes them to privacy risks There is a critical need to ensure that companies engaging teens in an online environment collect data in a responsible manner, understand the unique teen audience, and have the tools and support necessary to sustain responsible data collection in an evolving regulatory atmosphere."

The study examined a total of 53,000 apps available in the Google Play Store, narrowed down to 1,156 teen-directed apps that have been installed 20 million or more times.

"It’s clear that advertisers are paying attention to this market. It’s clear that those of us in the privacy space need to be paying attention to this marketplace and understanding what the vulnerabilities are and to address them," said Dona Fraser, BBB National Programs Privacy Initiatives Senior Vice President.

“It’s a very tenuous space. We’re dealing with buying power. We’re dealing with teens who are moving into adulthood, and it’s a very vulnerable space that I think requires a certain level of care and analysis that we’ve never really given it," she said.

The report said that although proposed laws that expand the scope of the Children's Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) to include some teenagers are well-intentioned, we should not treat teens the same way we treat children, nor should we treat them as fully developed adults.

The study finds that:

  • Teen apps have a greater attack surface for privacy risks: The teen dataset requested more permissions of its users and included more in-app purchase options than apps in the general dataset with an average of 12.9 requests, six to 10 of which are categorized as “dangerous."
  • Trackers observed most frequently appeared to be controlled by Facebook and Google: Such major players are woven together with innumerable advertising technology companies to create an interlocking mesh of data exchange.
  • Many consumers, including teens, engage with their favorite apps every day unaware of the hidden ecosystem that drives them.
  • The teen dataset included more ad-supported apps than the general dataset.
  • Of apps marketed to teens, 83% use advertising to earn revenue, compared to 51% of apps directed to general audiences.
  • In the teen dataset, 78% of apps contained in-app purchases, compared with less than 50% in the general dataset.
  • When looking at the genres of gaming apps, games for teens were more likely to have in-app purchases. In the teen dataset, the ratio of apps with in-app purchases to those without was almost 13:1, compared to the general dataset's ratio of 4:1.
  • Action games have the largest number of aggregate trackers. They are followed by casual games and arcade games.
 

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