Many Apps For Children Still Raise Privacy Concerns, FTC Says
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
And I'm Audie Cornish. Today, the Federal Trade Commission released a damning report on the way mobile apps handle children's privacy. Federal law prohibits the collection of children's personal information online without parental consent. But as NPR's Martin Kaste reports, the FTC says most apps for kids are collecting that data anyway.
MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: The FTC is definitely on the industry's case about this. This is the second report of the year and the tone is not improving.
JESSICA RICH: What we found is cause for concern.
KASTE: Jessica Rich is with the FTC's division of financial practices. In the new survey of 400 popular kids apps, 59 percent were collecting some kind of information, usually the unique ID number for the kid's mobile devices, which is then passed on to just a few big data companies.
RICH: This means that companies receiving the data could potentially develop detailed profiles of the children based on the behavior across many different apps.
KASTE: A smaller percentage of the apps was also found to be collecting the phone number on the device and a few also collected location information, such as Mabbles(ph). It's a game that has kids search their real neighborhoods for virtual monsters. The monsters can be captured...
ANGELA CAMPBELL: Then you vacuum it up and then you put it into a room.
KASTE: Angela Campbell is a Georgetown law professor who's preparing an FTC complaint about the app. She says the problem is it's constantly using kid's physical location in the real world. It even gets the kid's home address.
CAMPBELL: The model of all of these apps is to collect as much information as they can about you so they can then target you more effectively for ads.
KASTE: But the app's makers says they don't store location information. The FTC is also quick to say that it's not making allegations about what apps are doing with data. It just thinks there should be more transparency. The president of the App Developers Alliance, Jon Potter, says he agrees with the report's basic findings.
But he also points out that people keep rushing to get the newest apps.
JON POTTER: You don't download an app onto your phone, if you will, you don't invite somebody into your house, unless you trust them. And we think that's a good sign.
KASTE: Potter says the industry is working on better ways for apps to signal what information they collect. For its part, the FTC says it's doing, quote, "non-public investigations" of some apps for potential violations of federal law. Martin Kaste, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.