When you send your child out in the world, be it to school or outings with friends, you hope that they will be safe and protected.  To that end, many parents are buying smartphones for their children at a younger and younger age.  The rationale is that if the child has a phone, they can be connected and able to call if they get in trouble or need help.  However, many parents do not realize that the very thing they hope will provide them with a sense of security can actually be used to spy on their children.

Are the apps on your child’s phone or electronic device being used to spy on them?

There is an old adage that if you aren’t paying for it, you aren’t the customer.  You are the product being served.  That is the philosophy behind many of the “so-called” free apps available for your devices.  These free games and apps are either counting on you to make in-app purchases or to provide the company with data on your habits they can then sell as part of a marketing plan.  Children’s apps are supposed to be the exception as there are strict child privacy laws in place to protect them from such data collection.  Unfortunately, this is not always the case.  A recent survey by researchers examined almost 6,000 apps available on the Google Play Store for children.  They discovered that thousands of these apps violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

What is COPPA?

One of the provisions of COPPA bans the use of tracking software on children’s apps.  More than 1,000 of the reviewed children’s apps contained this banned software.  In addition, almost half of the 5,900 apps transmitted sensitive identifying data across the Internet without the required encryption as mandated by COPPA.  This means that your child’s personal data could be open to hackers who could then use this information for identity theft and fraud online.

Are all apps COPPA compliant?

Google requires its third-party apps for children to be COPPA compliant, but there is apparently little enforcement of this requirement.  Although you might think these apps come from “shadier” developers, the truth is that some of the most popular companies are guilty of this.  Two games—Disney’s “Where’s My Water?” and Gameloft’s “Minion Rush”—were among the suspect apps and show that even trusted developers can fail to live up to expectations.  Another popular app, Duolingo, is one of the top apps for children when it comes to learning a foreign language and is, in fact, even used by schools for this purpose.  However, Duolingo also is not compliant with COPPA.

What can parents do?

While it may seem there is little parents can do about this phenomenon, becoming vocal and active when it is discovered that an app is violating COPPA is currently the best way to get attention to this matter. It is extremely difficult for parents to know if an app claiming to be COPPA compliant really is.  However, it is possible for parents to be wary of their children’s online activities and to be advocates with government and businesses to help protect their children. New Edge Technology Solutions wants to be sure you are aware and proactive in protecting you and your family’s information.  Find out more about NETS and how we’re protecting businesses every day.