Looking for On-line Privacy? Unfortunately, There’s No App for That

Nearly a year ago (February, 2012), staff at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a report called Mobile Apps for Kids: Current Privacy Disclosures are Disappointing in which they found that little or no information on privacy practices or interactive features of mobile apps was made available to parents before those apps were downloaded from either the Apple or Android app stores. The results, as the title of the report indicate, were disappointing.

This month, the FTC revisited the privacy issue and published a new report, Mobile Apps for Kids: Disclosures Still Not Making the Grade. And the results were just as dismal. “Many apps included interactive features or shared kids’ information with third parties without disclosing these practices to parents.”

For most of us who have smart phones or use apps, privacy is a big deal. The FTC report cites the September, 2012 Pew Mobile Privacy Survey, which found that more than half (54%) of app users “decided not to install an app once they discovered how much personal information the app would collect.” And 30% of app users have actually “uninstalled an app that was already on their cell phone because they learned that the app was collecting personal information the users did not wish to share.”

It’s bad enough that apps are trying to collect info on us—as adults we should be able to deal with that. But what about apps that our kids are using? Well, the FTC found that parents aren’t getting even the most basic info about apps’ privacy policies and interactive features. Most never bothered to let parents know what kind of data the app collects, why it’s being collected, and who else is going to get it. “Even more troubling, the results showed that many of the apps shared certain information – such as device ID, geolocation, or phone number – with third parties without disclosing that fact to parent,” according to the FTC report. “Further, a number of apps contained interactive features – such as advertising, the ability to make in-app purchases, and links to social media – without disclosing these features to parents prior to download.”

The FTC is urging mobile app developers to come up with some uniform “best practices” that would protect users’ privacy. They’re also developing consumer education initiatives designed to help parents figure out what’s really going on with their information.

The full report is available here.

Whatcha think?

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