When it comes to letting our sons and daughters make responsible use of a tablet or mobile, we tend to trust those apps specifically created for children, such as those that appear in the family section of Google Play.
However, a new study sheds worrying data on the security and data collection of these specific applications for child use, which supposedly should have special protection compared to the others.
25% of apps for children are unsafe
According to data compiled by researchers at Comparitech , 1 in 4 kids’ apps available on Google Play do not comply with the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) age-appropriate design code .
The ICO Age-Appropriate Design Code, or simply Code for Kids, an equivalent of our PEGI, lays out 15 standards that online services must adhere to. This includes developers of apps that target children under the age of 18 , as well as those who may appeal to children through the images or terminology used by the app.
Looking at the apps listed in the kids section of Google Play , which states that they are “teacher-approved” apps, the Comparitech team reviewed the privacy policies of some 400 apps to see whether or not they met individual criteria set by laic. They also looked at what personal information the apps were collecting , including persistent identifiers like Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. Nearly 25% of the apps they reviewed (96 in total) were found to be possibly violating the ICO guidelines in some way.
Similar data in other countries
The fact that the study has focused on comparing how children’s apps work and collect data in contrast to the UK regulation should not mislead us that the real problem lies in their harshness, as similar studies in other countries have increased concern about this issue.
In June 2021, the same team conducted a similar study but based on the US Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA) and found that 1 in 5 apps on Google Play for children, 20%, violated these rules. Since the ICO guidelines are quite similar to COPPA’s, the fact that 1 in 4 apps now appear to violate these codes suggests that the problem is getting worse rather than better .
After contacting Google Play, the official response was as follows: “Google Play takes the protection of children on its platform very seriously. Play has policies and processes in place to help protect children on our platform and has invested significant resources in related features. Apps directed at children must comply with our Google Play Families Policy , which requires developers to comply with all applicable laws and all Play Developer Program Policies , as well as imposing additional privacy, monetization, and content restrictions, such as prohibiting access to precise location data . Developers are responsible for ensuring that their apps comply with all relevant laws and are appropriate for their intended audience, including children.”