The Federal Trade Commission said on Thursday that mobile-application developers and providers need to give parents more information on what data is being collected about children who use mobile apps.
In a staff report surveying mobile apps aimed at children, the FTC said that apps stores and developers are not providing enough information on the data they collect about children and how they use it.
“Right now, it is almost impossible to figure out which apps collect data and what they do with it,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a statement. “The kids-app ecosystem needs to wake up, and we want to work collaboratively with industry to help ensure parents have the information they need."
The survey focused on apps provided by Apple and Google. It found that the promotion pages on Apple’s App Store offered almost no information about the data-collection policies of apps available for sale there, while the Android Market offered general permission statements. The report noted that mobile apps can collect a lot of information about users, including their location, phone number, and list of contacts.
The report recommended that app stores and developers work together to provide better information to parents; that app makers offer short and simple disclosures about the data they collect and how they use it; and that the makers indicate whether their apps connect to social-networking sites or use ads.
The FTC is in the process of updating its rules implementing the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. The law requires operators of online services to get parental consent before collecting information from children under 13. The commission said that the rules do apply to mobile apps and that it would be conducting a review over the next six months to determine whether some mobile apps have violated the act.
The Association for Competitive Technology, which represents many app makers, acknowledged that the industry has some work to do to ensure that the makers are providing proper disclosures to all users.
Privacy advocates called on the FTC to adopt new mobile-privacy rules and urged Congress to pass basic protections for both wired and wireless communications for all consumers.
“Today's report is also a wake-up call that Congress should pass a privacy ‘Bill of Rights’ to protect all consumers online,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. “It's time Congress put a stop to these ‘wild west’ mobile-data-collection practices.”