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Privacy rules

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A report by the Federal Trade Commission faults makers of mobile apps for collecting too much personal information about children without parental consent.

Apps can collect phone numbers, record locations or share information with an advertiser or other company without the child or parents being aware of it.

After reviewing 400 children’s apps available on tablets and smartphones, the agency said software companies that make the apps were gathering vast amounts of personal data about young users but only about a fifth of the apps disclosed their data collection practices, the New York Times reported.

According to the report, 60 percent of the apps examined transmitted the user’s device identification to a third party. Although the data can be used to access personal information such as a user’s name and email address, only about 20 percent of the apps disclosed their privacy practices. Some of the apps also sent a user’s exact geographic location.

The “invisible and unknown” transmission of the data to third parties could be used to build a profile of a child, which can then be used to direct advertising to the child.

FTC researchers said that more than half of the children’s apps contained advertising, but many did not disclose it. Some contained advertising despite makers’ claims to the contrary. The agency did not identify the apps or companies it scrutinized. The commission credited Amazon and Google for requiring app developers to disclose their policies.

However, the FTC faulted “long, dense and technical” privacy policies for lack of clarity. The FTC said that the survey results “paint a disappointing picture of the privacy protections provided by apps for children.”

The agency is investigating whether the apps’ practices violate the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and whether changes should be made to the 1998 law, which requires parental permission for collecting personal data for children under 13.

Given the explosion of apps available online and their accessibility to young children, parents need clear and enforceable policies to protect their children.

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