Thousands of Android apps are tracking kids

James Marshall
April 16, 2018

"The researchers published their findings in a study (PDF) titled, "'Won't Somebody Think of the Children'?

It is possible that some of the apps were not collecting data in ways that violate COPPA, as this was automated methods, but the researchers contest that the number of apps with tracking functions indicated that non-compliance was widespread.

While everyone's in an uproar about Facebook accounts getting skimmed for data, a new study claims that thousands of Android apps are in breach of standards for monitoring kids' behavior online.

The site reports, from an abstract on the study, that researchers using a “dynamic analysis framework that allows for the automatic evaluation of the privacy behaviors of Android apps, ” have analyzed mobile apps “compliance with the Childrens Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), one of the few stringent privacy laws in the USA,” and that based on its automated analysis of 5,855 of the most popular free apps, “We found that a majority are potentially in violation of COPPA, mainly due to their use of third-party SDKs.”.

Based on a sample of 5,855 children's apps, the study - a collective effort by a number of organisations including the University of British Columbia and the University of California - found that 73% of apps transmitted sensitive data over the internet and that 28% accessed sensitive data protected by Android permissions.

About 40 percent of apps transmitted info without using "reasonable security measures", and almost all 1,280 apps with Facebook tie-ins were not properly using the social network's code flags to limit under-13 use.

Further, 19 percent of children's apps collect some kind of identifier "or other personally identifiable information" using software development kits (SDKs) whose terms of service say these programs shouldn't be used in children's apps.

"Many of the companies receiving location data are advertising firms whose business models rely on user profiling to perform behavioral advertising, which is explicitly prohibited by COPPA", the study added.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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