Do mobile game apps collect personal data from children? Here’s what you need to know
What is happening? More than two-thirds of the top 1,000 iPhone apps aimed at children collect and send their personal information to the advertising industry, according to a new study by fraud and compliance software firm Pixalate, adding that 79% popular kids apps on Android do the same.
Subway Surfer spies on kids when they use it, as does Candy Crush Saga, Angry Birds, and even educational tech apps designed to teach kids to paint or help them with homework. According to Pixalate, these apps collect children’s general geographic locations and other identifying information such as app usage behavior, purchase history, and more. and sell them to companies that track users’ interests and predict what they might want to buy.
By the time a child turns 13, online ad agencies hold an average of 72 million data points about them, research finds. Super awesome, a London-based company that helps app developers navigate children’s privacy laws. Meanwhile, another study, this one from the advocacy group Human Rights Watchfound that 90% of educational tools collect data which they then send to ad tech companies.
Why is this important? Children’s privacy deserves special attention, as children’s data can be misused in particularly harmful ways. Research suggests that many children cannot tell ads from content, and tracking technology allows marketers to micro-target young minds.
What did the Pixalate study find? Pixalate said it used software and human reviewers, including teachers, to try to categorize each app that might be of interest to children. It identified more than 3,91,000 child-directed apps across the two stores, far more than the selection in the stores’ limited children’s sections.
The study concluded that 8% of all apps on the Apple App Store and 7% of all apps on the Google Play Store are apps aimed at children. Of these apps, approximately 42% of apps are more likely to share personal information with advertisers. According to statistics provided by the Pixalate study, “programmatic advertisers” spend 3.1 times more per app on apps aimed at children compared to consumer apps.
What kind of data do these apps collect? All of these apps store information such as user account information, general locations, Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, purchase history, schedules, and other identifying data, which is then sold to security agencies. advertising and marketing think tanks that can anticipate and analyze this to form the basis of targeted advertising.
What are Google and Apple doing about it? Both Google and Apple have denied the results of this study, saying their app stores protect children’s privacy. When Washington Post contacted Apple, the company told the outlet that it disagreed with the premise of Pixalate’s research, and added that the company had a conflict of interest because it sold services to advertisers . Meanwhile, Google representatives told the newspaper that Pixalate’s methodology for determining whether an app is “too broad” aimed at children and that most of the apps they labeled as kids’ apps weren’t classified as such by Google.
What are governments doing about it? While most G7 governments do not have specific personal data protection laws, those that do have strict sections specified for underage users. Other countries settle for interpretations of certain privacy laws. The United States, for example, has the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act 1998 who said companies aren’t supposed to collect personal information about children under 13 without parental permission. But even this law has its flaws that allow Big Tech companies to continue to collect sensitive information about their underage users.
In India, there is no functional data governance mechanism and with Apple and Google removing app authorization data from their respective app stores, it has become even more difficult for Indian users to verify what type of data an application collects.