On Your Side Alert: FTC Apps For Children Fall Short

Published: Feb. 22, 2013 at 4:15 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 23, 2013 at 4:26 AM EST
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Parents you may find this shocking. A recent report by the Federal Trade Commission says hundreds of Mobile Apps for Children's collect private information without parents knowing. The FTC says those Apps collect phone numbers, location, and other information about the device your child is using.

Chances are, your child probably has some sort of mobile device. If they do, it's important to make sure you know what they're downloading and what Apps they are using. Dale Brown, with AT&T says it's why the company offers several options to protect your children. "The biggest thing from a mistake perspective, is just to assume that it is safe because it says for your child's age limits," Brown says.

AT&T offers tools like the Content Filter, which can block mature content and the Purchase Blocker, which allows parents to control Apps that cost money. The safety measures are not just important to Brown because he works for the company -- but he's also a parent and his child uses a mobile device. "It is linked to my email account. So if she buys something online, it sends me an email so I know exactly what it is," Brown explains.

The Federal Trade Commission blasted hundreds of Apps designed for children, for not giving parents basic information about what they are retrieving. It says they are collecting, "alarming" information about children. Private information, like phone numbers or locations, that could be used to contact children or track their activities. The report claims many of the Apps, share that private information with third parties, all without parental consent.

Jim Gibson, a Professor of Law at the University of Richmond, is not surprised by the report. He says kids are big business. "They spend a lot of money either directly or through their parents on Mobile Apps and on software, and on websites. Of course, if a company can capture their attention when they are 12-years-old, they might have a consumer for life," Gibson explains. He says parents should be concerned. "What this might do is lead to investigation by the FTC of particular applications. The study surveyed Apps but they didn't target particular ones, they just took a sample," he says.

The FTC did not release the names of the Apps in question but says they came from the Google and Apple App Stores. Consumer advocates say report should serve as a warning to the mobile industry. "I think we will see more up-front disclosure of exactly what an App is going to collect, particularly if it is an App aimed at young kids, and I think we are also going to see more FTC enforcement action," Gibson tells us.

He says the best protection is to monitor what your kids are doing and read privacy notices on any Apps they use. AT&T even recommends parents signing a Mobile Safety Parent Agreement. "To make sure kids are not sharing pictures and locations of where they are, because you never know what type of predators are out there," Brown says.

The FTC is urging App developers to be more transparent about Apps geared toward children. It's launching an investigation to determine if the developers are violating The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. In the coming months, the FTC is planning a follow up survey to determine if any changes were made. It's also developing material to help parents better navigate App Stores.

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