FTC Survey: Disclosure Of Use Of Private Information In Mobile Apps For Children Is Insufficient

by Pepper Hamilton LLP
Contact

A report recently released by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reveals that mobile applications targeted at children often collect and share children’s private information with third parties but generally do not provide adequate disclosures with respect to such practices.

Hold the App-lause

As of August-September 2012, 45 percent of U.S. adults have a smartphone, and 25 percent of U.S. adults own a tablet computer.1 Of this group of app users, one in three has downloaded an app to their mobile device for use by a child and nearly six out of ten app-using parents had done so.2 As of June 2011, 52 percent of all children ages 8 and younger have access to mobile devices at home like a smartphone, video iPod, iPad or other tablet.3 Children between the ages of 2 and 12 use a mobile device an average of five days each week, with an average session lasting just under an hour. A mobile device used by children generally has 12 apps on it, 54 percent of which are games.4

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

As the use of mobile applications by children increases, so does the scope of information they provide, in the app or in a link between the app and social media application, and the potential for its disclosure to third parties. The potential infringement of privacy is more serious when multiple apps share information with the same third parties, thus enabling such third parties to compile profiles about the children’s use and preferences.

In the summer of 2012, the FTC conducted a survey to examine the disclosures provided by mobile applications about their use and disclosure of information collected from children’s use of mobile apps and how such disclosures compared to the actual practices made by such applications.5 This was a follow-up survey to a similar survey conducted by the FTC in February 2012.6

The recent survey reviewed the disclosures provided by 200 apps and tested 400 apps to determine whether they contained interactive features such as advertising, the ability to make in-app purchases and links to social media and whether they collected or transmitted any information from the mobile devices on which they were tested.

Missing Disclosures

The survey results show that parents are still not given basic information about the privacy practices and interactive features of mobile apps aimed at children. Most apps tested in the survey failed to provide any information whatsoever with respect to the data collected through the app, nor any information with respect to the type of data collected, the purpose of collection, and who would obtain access to the data. In fact, such information was disclosed only by 20 percent of the apps reviewed. Many of the apps did share certain information with third parties, without disclosing this fact to parents. Specifically, 60 percent of the apps reviewed transmitted the device ID to third parties such as the developer, advertising networks or analytics companies. Some apps also disclosed the device’s geolocation or phone number.

Furthermore, interactive features in apps targeted at children, were generally not disclosed to parents before the apps were downloaded. Disclosure following the download is less effective as at such time the parents will already have paid for the app and the app may already have started collecting and sharing information before the disclosure has been reviewed. While 58 percent of the apps reviewed contained advertising within the app, only 15 percent indicated the presence of advertising prior to download. While 22 percent of the apps reviewed contained links to social networking services, only 9 percent disclosed such linkage prior to download. Such prior disclosures are important as parents may wish to control their children’s communication with individuals they had never met and prevent them from posting certain information about themselves or their whereabouts or from posting information, photos or videos which would hurt others’ feelings. Finally, even though 17 percent of the apps reviewed contained the ability to make purchases for virtual goods within the app, the disclosure provided in the app stores where such apps are purchased (e.g., Google Play and The Apple Store) with respect to such purchasing capabilities, were not prominent or easy for parents to understand.

Ineffective Disclosures

In addition to many apps’ lack of disclosure, the survey revealed that even the disclosures some apps did include were not satisfactory in several ways. The disclosures were often in the form of links to long and technical privacy policies filled with information irrelevant to parents and difficult for them to understand. In addition, some disclosures were lacking in basic details, including the nature of the information collected, the reason for collecting the information and which parties would obtain the information.

Next Steps

In order to deal with these results, the FTC has decided to take additional steps to increase the focus on the issue of privacy of apps targeted at children:

First – Encourage the expeditious implementation of “best practices” in the mobile app industry to protect privacy by developing standards including: (1) privacy by design, i.e., incorporating privacy protections into the design of mobile products and services; (2) offering parents easy-to-understand choices about the data collection and sharing through children’s apps; and (3) providing greater transparency about how data is collected, used and shared through children’s apps.

Second – Develop and release consumer education intended to help parents navigate the mobile app marketplace.

Third – Launch multiple non-public investigations to determine whether certain entities in the mobile app marketplace have violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) or have engaged in unfair or deceptive trade practices in violation of the FTC Act.

Fourth – Conduct a third children’s app survey once initiatives, including self-regulatory efforts, have had a reasonable time to develop.

Endnotes

1 See Joanna Brenner, Pew Internet: Mobile, Pew Internet & American Life Project (Dec. 4, 2012), available at http://pewinternet.org/Commentary/2012/February/Pew-Internet-Mobile.aspx.

2 See Amanda Lenhart, Downloading Apps for Children (May 15, 2012), available at http://pewinternet.org/Commentary/2012/May/Downloading-apps-for-children.aspx.

3 Per a study by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group that studies children’s use of technology See Common Sense Media, Zero to Eight: A Common Sense Media Research Study, FALL 2011, Children’s Media Use in America, available at http://www.commonsensemedia.org/sites/default/files/research/zerotoeightfinal2011.pdf.

4 See Chris Marlow, Research: Kids on mobile use an average of 12 apps (May 24, 2012), available at http://www.dmwmedia.com/news/2012/05/24/research-kids-on-mobile-use-an-average-of-12-apps.

5 The full report “Mobile Applications for Kids: Disclosure Still Not Making the Grade” is available at http://www.ftc.gov/os/2012/12/121210mobilekidsappreport.pdf.

6 The full report on the original survey “Mobile Apps for Kids: Current Privacy Disclosures are Disappointing” is available at http://www.ftc.gov/os/2012/02/120216mobile_apps_kids.pdf.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Pepper Hamilton LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Pepper Hamilton LLP
Contact
more
less

Pepper Hamilton LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.