updated 05:50 pm EST, Thu February 16, 2012
FTC wants more transparency on child info
The FTC in a set of recommendations Thursday called on Android and iOS developers alike to provide more information to adults about what information an app might collect about their kids. Officials wanted simple, direct information to help parents either filter access or avoid apps entirely. It was "almost impossible" to know which apps were scraping data and more difficult still to know where that information was going, agency chairman Jon Leibowitz said.
A study by the FTC raised concerns that games and other child-friendly apps might get call histories, contacts, GPS positions, the phone number, or other pieces of information without telling the downloader before they start using the relevant features. The report saw many of the stores wasting an opportunity on their app store pages to tell customers in advance.
Having some safeguards in place was important as younger people used technology, the FTC said.
Both companies have some measures to curb the transmission of unwanted data, although they usually wait until late to warn users. Google gives downloaders a description of the permissions an app needs, but usually as they're installing the title, not before. Apple doesn't include advance warning and instead relies on pop-up alerts for a handful of data. It currently focuses on location and is only promising to flag contact information access in a future iOS 5 update, most likely 5.1.
The recommendations aren't binding, but they came as the FTC was promising a review of mobile apps in the next half-year to determine if some of them were violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule by giving out information about users under 13.