Thousands of popular Android apps covertly track children, study finds

Researcher have discovered a range of worrying potential privacy issues in thousands of kids’ apps.

A team from the International Computer Science Institute (ICSI) used an automated testing system to analyse 5,855 Android apps that are available to download on Google Play, and found that more than 3,000 of them were collecting more data than they should.

Related: How to keep your kids safe online

Since the researchers didn’t have the same access to iOS data, it isn’t clear if the issue is as widespread on Apple’s mobile platform.

Arguably the most worrying finding was that 281 were gathering geolocation data “or data sufficient to infer it” without asking for a parent’s permission first, which could be used to find out where users live.

107, meanwhile, were sharing the device owner’s email address, and 10 were even sharing phone numbers.

“Although we cannot know the true number of children’s apps in the Play Store, we believe that our results are representative, given that the apps that we examined represent the most popular free ones,” the study, first spotted by Engadget, concluded.

According to the researchers, many of the apps might be breaching the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act in the US, which is supposed to regulate how mobile apps, games and websites are allowed to collect and process personal information from children under the age of 13.

However, it’s up to organisations like the FTC to actually hold the app developers accountable.

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