Feeds

FTC tears into Apple, Google over kids' privacy - or lack of

'Impossible' to know data collected by apps, watchdog fumes

Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet

US regulators have told smartphone software makers to do more to protect the privacy of kids using their apps - or face the watchdogs' wrath.

In a report that acknowledged the "tremendous" growth of mobile software, the Federal Trade Commission said app developers are not making "simple and short" declarations of their privacy policies. As a result, young users - picked out for their vulnerability - could be giving up their mobile phone numbers, contacts, location and other data without knowing about it.

It also warned that app stores run by Apple and Google needed to do more.

"Although the app store developer agreements require developers to disclose the information their apps collect, the app stores do not appear to enforce these requirements. This lack of enforcement provides little incentive to app developers to provide such disclosures and leaves parents without the information they need," notes the report.

"As gatekeepers of the app marketplace, the app stores should do more."

Google said it was reviewing the FTC's report. A spokesman said:

From the beginning, Android has had an industry-leading permission system, which informs consumers what data an app can access and requires user approval before installation. Additionally, we offer parental controls and best practices for developers to follow when designing apps that handle user data.

Apple had not responded to El Reg's request for a comment by the time of publication.

FTC staff searched the app stores for games and puzzles targeted at kids and found that, in most cases, they couldn't figure out from the promotion pages "whether the apps collected any data at all, let alone the type of data collected, the purpose of the collection, and who collected or obtained access to the data".

The commission said that it had already brought an "enforcement action" against one app developer under the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), and it was prepared to bring more if the industry didn't sit up and take notice.

"Over the next six months, staff will conduct an additional review to determine whether there are COPPA violations and whether enforcement is appropriate. Staff also will evaluate whether the industry is moving forward to address the disclosure issues raised in this report," the regulator said.

Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the FTC, added: "At the FTC, one of our highest priorities is protecting children's privacy, and parents deserve the tools to help them do that."

"Right now, it is almost impossible to figure out which apps collect data and what they do with it. The kids app ecosystem needs to wake up, and we want to work collaboratively with industry to help ensure parents have the information they need."

The report comes as mobile apps such as Path and Twitter have been caught hanging onto address book data from phones. ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
New 'Cosmos' browser surfs the net by TXT alone
No data plan? No WiFi? No worries ... except sluggish download speed
'Windows 9' LEAK: Microsoft's playing catchup with Linux
Multiple desktops and live tiles in restored Start button star in new vids
iOS 8 release: WebGL now runs everywhere. Hurrah for 3D graphics!
HTML 5's pretty neat ... when your browser supports it
'People have forgotten just how late the first iPhone arrived ...'
Plus: 'Google's IDEALISM is an injudicious justification for inappropriate biz practices'
Mathematica hits the Web
Wolfram embraces the cloud, promies private cloud cut of its number-cruncher
Mozilla shutters Labs, tells nobody it's been dead for five months
Staffer's blog reveals all as projects languish on GitHub
SUSE Linux owner Attachmate gobbled by Micro Focus for $2.3bn
Merger will lead to mainframe and COBOL powerhouse
iOS 8 Healthkit gets a bug SO Apple KILLS it. That's real healthcare!
Not fit for purpose on day of launch, says Cupertino
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.