Thousands of Android apps are tracking kids

Thousands of Android apps are tracking kids

To conduct the study, researchers modified Android's permission system to enable the real-time monitoring of apps' access to protected resources (like location data, address book contacts, etc.) and instrumented all the functions in the Android platform that access these sensitive resources.

Only a week after it was alleged that YouTube violated United States laws that protect children's online privacy, a study has claimed a majority of popular free children's apps in the Google Play Store are also in breach of these rules. "The researchers published their findings in a study (PDF) titled, "'Won't Somebody Think of the Children'?

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.

And when it comes to collecting and sending user data, the study found that 2,344 of the 5,855 apps - that's 40 percent of them - did not use Transport Layer Security (TLS) for every transmission containing "identifiers or other sensitive information".

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.

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About 40 percent of apps transmitted info without using "reasonable security measures", and almost all 1,280 apps with Facebook tie-ins were not properly using the social network's code flags to limit under-13 use.

All this looks exceedingly dodgy, but there's more to the situations than meets the eye.

The study's authors claim that none of the apps in question attained "verifiable parental consent" for accessing or sharing this private information, which constitutes a violation of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in the US. This is particularly problematic when apps made to be used by people over the age of 13 find their way into education use, even when they may not have been designed for such purposes.

The FTC's investigation came after major mobile games - including NCSoft's "Lineage M" and Netmarble Games' "Lineage 2 Revolution" - were launched in Korea past year via Google Play and Apple's App Store, but not One Store.

Google Korea said it could not provide official comment on this issue.

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