The study revealed 57 percent of the 5,855 most popular free Android children’s apps ‘are potentially in violation’ of COPPA.
Google is reportedly taking a closer look at kid’s apps in the Play Store in light of a new study claiming that more than half of the most popular ones are illegally tracking their young users.
The study from researchers at the International Computer Science Institute revealed that 57 percent of the 5,855 most popular free Android children’s apps “are potentially in violation” of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act 1998 (COPPA), primarily due to their use of third-party software development kits.
Google did not immediately respond to PCMag’s request for comment but a spokesperson for the Web giant told Tom’s Guide that the company is “taking the researchers’ report very seriously and looking into their findings.”
“Protecting kids and families is a top priority, and our Designed for Families program requires developers to abide by specific requirements above and beyond our standard Google Play policies,” Google’s statement reportedly reads. “If we determine that an app violates our policies, we will take action. We always appreciate the research community’s work to help make the Android ecosystem safer.”
COPPA applies to children under the age of 13 and requires verifiable consent from a parent or guardian before personal information can be collected about a child. Even if consent is given, there are limitations on how the collected information can be used, extra protections must be in place, and methods made available for parents to review the personal information collected.
Many of the SDKs used by the apps in question do offer COPPA-friendly configuration options to disable tracking and behavioral advertising, the researchers wrote in their report. Still, most of those apps “either do not make use of these options” or use them incorrectly.
“Worse, we observed that 19 percent of children’s apps collect identifiers and other personally identifiable information via SDKs whose terms of service outright prohibit their use in child-directed apps,” the report states. Moreover, “efforts by Google to limit tracking … have had little success.”