Study Finds Thousands of Android Mobile Apps Improperly Track Children

MOBILETRACKING is creepy enough, but a study has found that some 3,300 Android apps have been potentially illegally tracking kids.

Privacy experts have analyzed 5,855 child-directed Android apps and have found that more than half -57%- are potentially violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a United States law protecting children's private data online.

Some 256 (4.4%) were found to collect geolocation data, 107 shared the device owner's email address and 10 even shared the user's phone number.

Legally, any potential violations will be decided by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The research was conducted using an automated testing process on 5,855 family and child-related apps available on Google Play, Engadget reported Sunday.

Another 1,100 shared persistent identifying information with third parties, and 2,281 appeared to violate the Google terms of service forbidding apps from sharing those identifiers to the same destination as the Android Advertising ID. All told, 40 percent of apps included in the research had passed on info without taking "reasonable" security measures. 1,280 apps integrated with Facebook, yet 92 per cent of them did not correctly implement the social network's security measures to protect the data of users under the age of 13.

The study's authors claim that none of the apps in question attained "verifiable parental consent" for accessing or sharing this private information, which constitutes a violation of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in the US.

Then there's the problem with ensuring children are honest with how old they are when accessing apps and that they do indeed seek the permission of parents when prompted.

Worse, researchers point out that around a fifth of all the tested apps used an SDK that specifically prohibited developers from using its library in child-directed apps, due to the nature of its data collection.

We contacted Google for comment but the search giant has yet to respond.