Researchers at the International Computer Science Institute at the University of California, Berkeley have released a new study showing that over half of Android apps may violate the US Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) when they are directed at children 13 years and younger. The main issue is the apps may be not following guidelines when it comes to collecting and sharing data.

All of the apps in the study found to be in potential violation are also a part of Google’s Designed for Families program, which is supposed to educate developers on COPPA and requires certification through their program. The issue, however, seems to be that Google allegedly may not be enforcing the policies as thoroughly as they should, per The Guardian. (Representatives for Google did not immediately respond to Red Tricycle’s request for comment.)

kid on tablet

Photo: Igor Starkov via Unsplash

If you’re not familiar with COPPA, let’s bring you up to speed. In 1999, Congress passed and enacted the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act which is designed to protect children’s online privacy. In particular, it requires that app developers obtain parental permission to collect data on all apps designed for children 13 and younger. This data includes IP addresses and geolocation markers.

So what exactly is going on with the Android apps researched in this study? Basically, researchers studied 5,855 apps for kids and found violations such as sharing personal and location information without security protocols and parental permission, that developers used the info for ad targeting and exhibited an overall disregard for safety measures for children. The apps also accessed data protected by Android permissions, which was subsequently transmitted over the Internet.

What does all this mean for parents? While we can feel semi-comforted there is legislation in our country that benefits the well-being of our children, it will always come back to us for making sure our kids are protected while using apps and technology. Sadly, there will always be people looking to take advantage of kids through a disregard of rules and regulations.

Right now, we don’t have an official list of which apps are in violation of COPPA, but we are hoping one is released soon. Now is a great time to look through your tablets and phones and identify concerning apps. Go with your gut––if it doesn’t look or feel right, delete it.

Do you have an Android phone that your kids use and does this news concern you? Let us know in the comments below!

––Karly Wood



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