Who: Federal Trade Commission (the “FTC”)
When: 3 September 2015
Law stated as at: 3 November 2015
In 2012, the FTC surveyed developers of apps for children. The survey asked: what information was collected through their app; who was the information shared with; and what information do parents receive about the developer’s privacy practices?
Three years on, the FTC has revisited the subject with the Global Privacy Enforcement Network (a coalition of international privacy enforcement authorities, including the FTC) by reviewing 364 apps for children in the Apple App Store and Google Play. The FTC reviewed the disclosures available about the privacy practices and other interactive features, such as linking to social media. The FTC also downloaded the apps to examine the data collection and sharing practices.
The survey found that 164 (45%) of the 364 apps for children have privacy policies available for review before downloading. Although this is over double the percentage from three years ago, this still means that parents do not have easy access to privacy policies for the majority of apps available for children. 38 of the apps had privacy policies available in other places, such as within the actual app or on the website of the app developer. The FTC concluded that such information is difficult for parents to find and therefore unlikely to be useful to them.
In addition, 48 of the total 364 reviewed apps had, as preferred by the FTC, short form disclosures in their app descriptions about sharing personal information with third parties, the use of persistent identifiers, in-app purchases, social media integration and/or advertising.
The FTC believes the improved findings may be due to the release of the FTC’s Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule in January 2013. This widened the definition of children’s personal information to include location, photos, videos, audio recordings and cookies.
Why this matters:
Over the past three years, there has been an increased awareness in both the US and the UK, of personal data, privacy and the need to protect children using apps on smartphones. However the FTC survey indicates that there is still some way to go on the part of US app developers and one suspects that a similar exercise in the UK would not necessarily lead to more encouraging results.