According to a new study published by researchers affiliated with the International Computer Science Institute, thousands of free apps available in the Google Play store are tracking the online activity of children in such ways which violate USA privacy laws. As users and authorities seek to clamp down on illegal data collection, this research draws specific attention to the online security of children, particularly in this day and age of widespread internet connectivity and usage through smartphones.
Citing the International Computer Science Institute research (ICSI), it said that more than half of 5,855 Android apps on Google Play were potentially violating U.S. privacy laws that protect children under 13 from invasive data collection. The law in question is the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which was enacted in 1998 and brought into effect in 2000.
Other crucial discoveries that were made under the study include 281 apps that collected the location or contact data of children without asking for permission from parents, and 1,100 apps that shared persistent identifying information that can be used for behavioral advertising methods that are banned to be used on children. "The rampant potential violations that we have uncovered points out basic enforcement work that needs to be done".
In their research, they reviewed 5,855 popular Android apps that were specifically marketed to families with children and that were published on the Google Play Store from November 2016 to March 2018. 40% of the apps also shared users' personal information without really applying security measures. The study here covers the data tracking activities of about 6,000 apps that are aimed at children, including Disney's Where's My Water, Gameloft's Minion Rush and Duolingo, an app to learn languages on your smartphone, reports the Washington Post.
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Disney, Gameloft and Duolingo did not immediately respond to a request for comment. So in the end, 57% of all the apps studied are actually potentially violating the law.
Critics of Google's app platform say that the company and other players in the digital advertising business, such as Facebook, have profited greatly from advances in data tracking technology, even as regulators have failed to keep up with the resulting privacy intrusions.
While the findings of the study reveal a concerning trend among Android app for kids, the researchers claim that they are not showing "definitive legal liability".