11/12/2012

Do mobile phone apps know more about your kids than you do?

You wouldn't have thought it possible in light of the Leveson Inquiry, but it turns out that the media are not alone in hacking into kids' mobiles. It seems that mobile phone apps are ripping as much information as possible, too.

[caption id="attachment_14662" align="aligncenter" width="646"]parent checking mobile phone apps on girl's phone Do you know what information mobile phone apps are swiping from your kids' phones?[/caption]

Fair enough, no one trusts a reporter out of spitting range. But the makers of mobile phone apps infringing child privacy? The FTC is erring on the side of leniency at present, its official stance being that the majority of app manufacturers build in this facility unintentionally.  I'm not convinced.

App makers may know your child's network better than you do


If you're a parent, you'll know the agony of not knowing where your kids are.   Ironically the mobile phone apps makers, whom you trust to be diligent with your child's data, probably do.

But as well as knowing their location, app makers are extracting more sensitive personal data from kids' mobile phones. This could - and often does - include the handset device ID and e-mail addresses and phone number lists stored in directories on there.

No one is suggesting that the big players encourage mobile phone app makers to include this information in their extensions. Nor is anyone accusing app makers of building such software into their apps to make them more saleable. But it is cause for concern.

At-a-glance figures of mobile phone apps surveyed


Here are just a few of the facts and figures uncovered by the FTC's report

  • - 400 mobile phone apps were reviewed

  • - only one in five were willing to disclose their privacy practises

  • - almost 6 in 10 forward the swiped information from kids mobile phones to:

    • - other developers

    • - advertising networks

    • - analysis & marketing organisations

    • - miscellaneous third parties




The report reveals fundamental malpractise by mobile phone apps makers. Parents need to be informed of exactly what information is being syphoned from their kids' handsets once an app is downloaded, a legal prerequisite for children under 13.

With so few mobile phone apps manufacturers doing so, and with little progress shown from a report conducted similarly a year ago, the FTC has launched a full investigation.

These practises could well be in violation of either COPPA or the Federal Trade Commission Act. Both Acts will be used to cross-reference apps with child data protection laws where functionality is thought to be in breach of either.

Whatever the findings, please don't rely on David Cameron to back the regulators up when enforcing any law governing media.  He may say he'll support you for the sake of PR, but when push comes to shove, enterprise has a way of finding its way into bed with the PM.

Just read Hugh Grant's opinion of the PM following his U-turn on statutory underpinning to understand why.




Have Your Say: Do you know how much data your child's mobile phone apps collect in order to make them function properly? And should there be warnings if privacy invasion is probable?

photo credit: henrischmit via CC 2.0