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Study: Thousands of apps on Android are illegally tracking kids

Study: Thousands of apps on Android are illegally tracking kids

According to the results of a study recently conducted by a research team from the International Computer Science Institute, it turns out that the majority of free mobile apps in the Android platform geared for kids are tracking data. And it appears that thousands of them are unlawfully doing so, specifically in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which explicitly prohibits data tracking on users who are not older than 13 years of age. Although the researchers have already published the results earlier this month, they are also planning to share them at the Privacy Enhancing Technologies Symposium, which will be happening in July later this year.

What the International Computer Science Institute researchers did was closely examine more than 5,800 mobile apps that are designed to be used by kids. These apps were chosen because each of them have been downloaded an average of 750,000 times. With the use of a Nexus 5X (made by LG in collaboration with Google), the team installed these apps from November 2016 until March of this year, making sure to run them for 10 minutes or so.

The research crew discovered that a big number of mobile apps are gathering information from the Nexus 5X unit, including data such as global positioning system (GPS) coordinates, and sometimes even private data. As many as 235 apps were gaining access to the Nexus 5X’s GPS info, and 184 of them were sending the unit’s location to advertisers. According to the study, these apps include popular games like Motocross Kids -- Winter Storm and Fun Kid Racing.

As pointed out by Serge Egelman, the co-author of the study, parents would find themselves in a helpless situation, considering their lack of technical understanding of how to determine if a certain app is indeed illegally tracking data from their kid’s mobile app usage. Ascertaining which apps are safe for their children has now become extra trickier.

For more on the results of the study, feel free to head to this web page.

Mobile security continues to be a big deal these days, even more so in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica controversy that has rocked Facebook, widely considered as the most popular social media platform in the face of the planet. Even somebody as clever as Google is drawing some flak -- a few weeks ago, a complaint was filed against the tech giant, especially with regards to its YouTube brand, which is said to be also in violation of COPPA.