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Thousands of Android Apps Are Tracking Kids Without Parental Consent

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Admin & Security Team
Feb 19, 2010
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Apps are also sharing data with third-party services


The Google Play Store might be full of apps and games that are tracking children without the express permission from the parent, and Google doesn’t seem to be doing much about it.

Following Facebook’s data leaking scandal with Cambridge Analitica, a lot of people have turned their attention to other social networks that might be doing the same thing.
It turns out that we ought to be looking towards mobile apps as well, at least on Android, as a newly released study revealed.

It’s one thing to track adults on Facebook or through other means, but tracking children it feels even more despicable.
And the companies doing this actively have a very good reason for it, and it’s usually all about making money.

Thousands of Android apps are tracking children

According to Education Week, a study named “'Won't Somebody Think of the Children?' Examining COPPA Compliance at Scale” was published in the Proceedings on Privacy Enhancing Technologies journal. It underlines that a large number of Android apps might be violating the federal laws in the United States by tracking minors and gathering data without the express permission of their parents.

COPPA stands for Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, and it’s supposed to protect children under the age of 13, and it refers specifically to gathering personal information without parental consent.

What’s even worse is that there are literally thousands of such apps, with most of them still available for download today.
The study covered 5,855 popular Android apps released between November 2016 and March 2018.

The study uncovered some worrying facts.
About 5% of the apps were gathering the user’s location and contact data (telephone number or email address), without any kind of parental consent.

Another 1,100 apps, which made up about 19% of the total, were sharing sensitive information with third-parties, even if the terms of service prohibit such exchange.
This type of data is used for behavioral advertising or targeted advertising.
Ever wonder why your kid is getting ads for exactly the toy he wanted?

49% of the apps in the study (2,281) were actually in violation of the Google's terms of service, which prohibits sharing so-called persistent identifiers.
It’s not personal information per say, but used in conjunction with other data and over long periods of time can be useful to determine a profile for the user.

And, to make things even worse, of the 1,280 apps that were using Facebook integration, about 92% didn’t protect kids under 13 by using the proper configuration settings.

It’s worse than you imagine

The study only covered 5,800 apps release in a span of about two years, and that’s a mear pittance of the total number of apps in the store.
Not to mention the fact that the researchers were only looking at the most popular apps.

There are probably thousands more that might not be as popular, but they are possibly doing even more harm.
And the real question is the following: What is Google doing to control this problem?
The answer is probably not all that much.

Thousands of Android Apps Are Tracking Kids Without Parental Consent
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