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Mobile marketplaces accused of publishing apps violating kids' privacy laws

Mobile marketplaces accused of publishing apps violating kids' privacy laws

September 13, 2018 | By Emma Kidwell

An analysis written by The New York Times examines a lawsuit filed by New Mexico’s attorney general claiming Fun Kid Racing, a mobile game developed Tiny Lab Productions, violated a federal children’s privacy law after accusing the game of sharing users’ data with advertising and online tracking companies.

Major concerns surrounding children playing mobile games revolve around in-app purchases and data privacy, so it's interesting to see how app developers have been able to publish games specifically for children and collect data without sharing how it's being distributed, or who has access to it. 

The complaint was filed on Tuesday and accuses Tiny Lab Productions (which ceased sharing data last month), alongside online ad businesses run by Google, Twitter and three other undisclosed companies, of exploiting a law intended to prevent the personal data of children under 13 from falling into the hands of manipulative marketers and hackers. 

The suit also accuses Google of tricking customers by including games in the family section of its store, leading unsuspecting parents and children to download malicious content which exploits personal data which can include precise location of a device.

The New York Times reports that at least 20 other apps (10 published to the Google Play Store and 10 to the Android Marketplace) were collecting data, where both platforms sent that data to tracking companies, thus potentially violating children’s privacy law. 

While there aren't any safeguards put in place for adults, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act protect children under the age of 13 from being improperly tracked, including for advertising purposes.

Without verifiable permission from parents or legal guardians, children’s sites and apps are prohibited from collecting personal details including email addresses, names, geolocation data and tracking codes if they’re used for targeted ads.

However, the New Mexico lawsuit and the analyses of children’s apps point to some app developers, ad tech companies and app stores failing to protecting children’s privacy.

“These sophisticated tech companies are not policing themselves,” New Mexico attorney general Hector Balderas said. “The children of this country ultimately pay the price.”

Of course the full piece explores how app makers and businesses collect data from children, and can be found over on The New York Times. It's definitely worth a read. 

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