Thousands of apps violate US children’s privacy laws

Kids apps and privacy

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A report has taken a look at Apple’s and Google’s app stores to find apps aimed at children and their privacy policies, and many found apps come nowhere close to complying with a US child privacy law.

The United States passed the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in 1998. This law aims to protect children’s privacy online for children under the age of 13.

App Stores must comply with the law, including Apple and Google. Pixalate researchers examined how each company’s app store protected children’s privacy in the third quarter of 2022.

Pixalate’s research had several important conclusions about children’s privacy in the App Stores and apps.

Examining the results

Pixalate found about 420,000 likely child-directed mobile apps in Google and Apple stores in the third quarter, down 1% quarter-over-quarter. Of those, about 8% of the apps on both stores are likely aimed at children.

No country of registration has been identified for 64 percent of apps likely to be aimed at children, and only 9 percent are registered in the US.

Each app store performed better in some categories and worse in others. For example, in the third quarter of 2022, 192 likely child-directed apps in the App Store had undetected privacy policies and transmitted IP addresses, while only 86 apps did the same in the Play Store.

For apps that didn’t broadcast IPs but still had undetected privacy policies, 15% were found on the App Store, or 21,125 apps, about the same as Q2. The Play Store had 24,826 of those apps.

How each company's app stores score on children's privacy

How each company’s app stores score on children’s privacy

In the Play Store, 124,379 apps requested access to personal information, while 59,797 did the same on Apple’s platform. Overall, 44% of all mobile apps likely to target children ask for permission to access personal data, up from the 42% quarter over quarter.

In the third quarter, advertisers spent three times more per app on apps likely to be aimed at children than on apps for general audiences. About 59% of likely child-directed apps share GPS and IP addresses with third-party digital advertisers, compared to 43% of likely non-child-directed apps.

Eighty-one percent of the top 1,000 most popular probably child-directed apps in the Play Store send location or IP data in the ad bid stream.

Apple is outperforming Google in most categories, but there is room for improvement, especially as Apple has put more ads in the App Store — to an extent.

The company also has some privacy features on its platforms, including App Tracking Transparency. Introduced in iOS 14.5, to significantly reduce how much user data is tracked by other companies for marketing purposes.

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