Thousands of Android apps improperly tracking kids' activities

Samsung bezel-less display patent

While the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore (CSA) has yet to receive reports from users here of fake mobile apps containing malicious codes, the deputy director of its National Cyber Incident Response Centre, Mr Douglas Mun, urges users to exercise caution when downloading apps.

The study found thousands of kid-targeted apps were collecting data from the device, some including Global Positioning System location and personal information.

When Facebook admitted that Cambridge Analytica, a right-wing data firm, had stolen millions of profiles, it was just the beginning of a series of revelations, as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been forced to admit his company profiles people who don't even use Facebook and that it attempts to predict what users do next on the site to cater to advertisers. "Overall, roughly 57% of the 5,855 child-directed apps that we analysed are potentially violating Coppa".

The researchers found many were not complying with COPPA because they did not attain "verifiable parental consent". The study found that many of these apps targeted to kids were in violation of that.

Amongst the many concerning findings was that almost 256 apps collected the geolocation data, 107 apps shared the email address of the device owner, and 10 apps shared phone numbers.

"Geolocation data not only reveals where individuals live, but could also enable inferences about their socioeconomic classes, everyday habits, and health conditions, among others", the study reads. This way, researchers hope Google would catch intrusive apps instead of relying on the "word" of app developers who submit their app to this section. "We observed that 81 of their 82 apps that we tested shared Global Positioning System coordinates with advertisers", the researchers stated in the report.

"We identified several concerning violations and trends: clear violations when apps share location or contact information without consent (4.8%), sharing of personal information without applying reasonable security measures (40.0%), potential non-compliance by sharing persistent identifiers with third parties for prohibited purposes (18.8%), and ignorance or disregard for contractual obligations aimed at protecting children's privacy (39.0%)", the team said.

Then there's the problem with ensuring children are honest with how old they are when accessing apps and that they do indeed seek the permission of parents when prompted. However, the company had been transmitting lists of saved WiFi networks and access points to TalkingData, an analytics company that BabyBus no longer partners with. Some of the apps named in the report include KidzInMind, TabTale's "Pop Girls-High School Band", and Fun Kid Racing.

It is down to the US Federal Trade Commissions (FTC) to determine which of the supposedly "family friendly" applications has broken US law directly and which would manage to avoid liability. In 2016, the ad network InMobi was fined Dollars 1 million for gathering the location of users - including children - without proper consent.

The announcement usually takes place in the summer, but Google may have let the name slip out early this year via its Instagram Story which, among a selection of images it encouraged users to screenshot and use as phone screensavers to celebrate spring, included an image of popsicles.

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