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FTC says Apple, Android must better protect kids who use apps

February 17, 2012|By Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times

Apple and Android need to do more to protect young consumers who buy apps on mobile devices, according to a Federal Trade Commission report.

In "Mobile Apps for Kids: Current Privacy Disclosures are Dis app ointing," the FTC examined 8,000 mobile apps designed for children that were sold through Apple's App Store and 3,800 through the Android Market. Researchers found that in almost all instances there was no way for parents to tell what — if any — information the app maker might be collecting about their children, or how that information would be stored or shared.

"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," FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a statement.

The FTC said the companies that make apps and the companies that sell apps both are responsible for the lack of transparency. It suggests that app makers should be required to disclose what information they will collect about users, and that the App Store and Android Market should provide a consistent way for developers to display that information.

Advocates of online privacy were quick to back the FTC's suggestions.

"Consumers, especially children, should not have to contend with mobile phone spies," Jeff Chester — executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a consumer protection and privacy organization — said in a statement. He also called for Congress to pass a privacy bill of rights to protect all consumers online.

James Steyer of the nonprofit advocacy group Common Sense Media said in a statement: "The new FTC report clearly demonstrates that while the mobile app marketplace keeps growing, mobile privacy keeps shrinking."

An FTC spokesperson said it was just coincidence that the report was released during a week when the amount of data collected by mobile applications is drawing much attention.

On Wednesday, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) and G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) wrote a letter to Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook saying the App Store needs to do a better job of protecting app consumers' private data — specifically users' address books.

Apple responded by saying that in the future, apps will have to ask for permission before downloading a user's address book, just as they do for geolocation.

deborah.netburn@latimes.com

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