More than 3000 apps on Google Play tracking children, says study

Adjust Comment Print

Only a week after it was alleged that YouTube violated United States laws that protect children's online privacy, a study has claimed a majority of popular free children's apps in the Google Play Store are also in breach of these rules.

"This is a market failure", said Serge Egelman, a co-author of the study and the director of usable security and privacy research at the International Computer Science Institute at the University of California, Berkeley. COPPA, which stands for Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, regulates how apps and websites are allowed to collect and process data from children below 13 years old.

The potential violations were abundant and came in several forms, according to the study. The study also found that 40 percent of the apps transmitted information without using proper security measures. Each of the 5,855 apps under review was installed more than 750,000 times, on average, according to the study. But it is the location tracking that might be most concerning to parents.

Furthermore, 39% of the apps studied violate Google's terms of services when it comes to sharing of persistent identifiers across platforms, apps, or devices.

Some of the apps in question included Disney's "Where's My Water?", Gameloft's Minion Rush and Duolingo, the language learning app.

The researchers could not evaluate apps running on iPhones and iPads as they did not have access to Apple's iOS data.

The report continues that third-party software development kits (SDKs) are largely to blame for the high proportion of apps potentially in violation of COPPA. Disney, Gameloft and Duolingo did not immediately respond to requests for comment from the Washington Post. However, Google barely enforces this on its end, or checks whether the apps truly are COPPA-compliant. "However, as our results show, there appears to not be any (or only limited) enforcement", the researchers said.

According to the "Korea Mobile Internet Industry Report 2017" published last month by the Korea Mobile Internet Business Association, Google Play accounted for around 60.7 percent of mobile app content sales a year ago, with most of the revenue coming from mobile games. Will Google be able to address the data privacy problem before it further escalates?