Google says it’s looking into a new study that revealed that thousands of children apps available on the Play Store could be tracking kids illegally without parents’ permission. A research team from the International Computer Science Institute at the University of California analyzed 5,855 most popular kids apps on the Play Store. The researchers concluded that most of the apps analyzed are “potentially in violation” of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act 1998 also known as COPPA.
This law makes it illegal to collect personal data of children under the age of 13. The University of California study also found that nearly half of the apps analyzed in the study failed to follow standard security measures required for sending sensitive data over the internet. It’s possible that this was a violation of the data security regulations set by COPPA.
There were a number of specific apps that were identified as potentially problematic during the study. They include; Pop Girls - High School Band, Motocross Kids - Winter Sports, Disney’s Where’s My Water, and Guitar Tuner Free - GuitarTuna.
According to the University of California study, there were cases where apps collected location and contact data from children without any consent. 20% of the analyzed apps also used tracking software whose inclusion in children apps is prohibited.
Study co-author Serge Egelman told reporters that most of the apps are “transmitting location data including where you go and possibly where you live.” Egelman also added that the apps transmitted names, serial numbers or codes that can be used to identify mobile devices, phone numbers, and email addresses.
According to the research, it’s practically impossible for the ordinary user to know when apps are harvesting data illegally. In that case, it’s up to regulators and tech companies like Google to look into the issue and ensure that such practices are not allowed.
Google released a statement responding to the study. The tech giant said that it’s taking the report very seriously adding that protecting kids and their families is an important priority. The company said that it will look into the report and take action on any app that has violated Play Store’s policies.
Disney also responded to the new study. The company said that protecting children’s online privacy is very important. Disney also expressed confidence that its practices were in conform to relevant regulations and procedures. TinyLabs also denied that it has violated any COPPA laws. The company claims that it requests the date of birth for any user who wants to use its apps, and that data on children under the age of 13 is not collected.
TabTable, another app developer that has been implicated in the study, said that it was looking into the matter. The company said that if it finds anything of concern, it will take the appropriate action. This new study comes after the major privacy scandal at Facebook regarding Cambridge Analytica.