Study Finds Thousands of Android Apps Tracking Children

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 U.S. privacy laws.

It's worth noting that the researcher didn't explicitly say the apps were in direct violation of US law, and regulators like the US Federal Trade Commissions would need to decide the level of liability. For example, third parties were able to access user info "for restricted purposes" in 1,100 apps and 2,281 seemingly shared similar info to the Android Advertising ID.

Researchers said that based on their analysis, most applications didn't break COPPA directly, but mainly due to the inclusion of software development kits (SDKs), which often collected this data automatically for the SDK makers, sometimes without the parent app collecting any data at all.

Almost all of the 1,280 apps (92%) with Facebook tie-ins were not properly using the social network's systems to prevent under-13 use.

To make matters worse, 40 per cent of the app studies shared personal information across the internet without the proper security measures.

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She says the six kids were regularly punished for common childlike and adolescent behavior, such as laughing too loudly. Reports surfaced after the crash that Child Protective Services attempted to visit the family numerous times.

All this looks exceedingly dodgy, but there's more to the situations than meets the eye. 3,337 of those apps were found to be engaging in improper collection, with 281 of them bagging contact and/or location info without asking for parental approval.

It is possible that some of the apps were not collecting data in ways that violate COPPA, as this was automated methods, but the researchers contest that the number of apps with tracking functions indicated that non-compliance was widespread.

And given the volume of apps added to the Play Store on a daily basis, Google faces a massive challenge on policing the granular details.

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