Android apps tracking kids unlawfully, violating child privacy laws

"We identiļ¬ed several concerning violations and trends", wrote the authors of the Proceedings on Privacy Enhancing Technologies, led by researchers at the International Computer Science Institute at the University of California, Berkeley. Anyone, including the FTC, can use these techniques to identify potential COPPA violators.

After the outrage of Facebook's data collection, researchers found that thousands of android apps are collecting data and sending information to third-party services. Keep in mind that the study's researchers customized Android with their own automated observation tools. Furthermore, the users are asked to enter the player's age, and the app does not collect any data if it is under 13. Still, most of those apps "either do not make use of these options" or use them incorrectly.

Now that we're at least pretending to care about privacy in the wake of the Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal, a growing number of folks seem to be realizing that such privacy violations are the norm, not the exception.

With apps, people often give permission for ad-tracking in exchange for free service. The study found that many of these apps targeted to kids were violating that law. Unfortunately, they have already been downloaded up to 1,250 times, so there could be users out there carrying some very unsafe apps.

Fun Kid Racing alone has more than 10 million downloads, according to the app page.


Apps primarily developed for families and children have to participate in the program. To its left is a back button, while the right portion where the "recents" button usually resides, is blank.

This will help ensure that your children aren't heading anywhere they shouldn't be.

"If a robot is able to click through their consent screen which resulted in carrying data, obviously a small child that doesn't know what they're reading is likely to do the same", Egelman said.

Now, while the Android fragmentation issue has been discussed every time around, with the blame on OEMs who don't release timely updates for their smartphones, Google has sort of come with a fix in the form of Project Treble.

This not only includes name, usernames, and emails, but also geo-location data, IP addresses, and other identity markers that could be used to track children online and link them to advertising IDs. However, the paper's co-author, Serge Egelman denied his claims and stated, "Even if his claims are true, they are irrelevant as the study was performed using machine algorithm by randomly pressing buttons". "We also observed that 73% of the tested applications transmitted sensitive data over the internet", the study found. The security measure is the "standard method for securely transmitting information", the researchers said.


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