A new report from the Federal Trade Commission found that mobile apps for kids get failing grades when it comes to protecting their privacy.
In a survey of the thousands of apps available in the Apple App Store and the Android market, the FTC staff found it "almost impossible" to figure out what data an app was collecting from children, how it was being shared, or who would have access to it.
With the report, the FTC sent a warning that developers and companies in the "kids app ecosystem" needed to do a lot more to disclose whether the app connects with social media, whether it contains ads, and whether data is collected and shared.
"Companies that operate in the mobile marketplace provide great benefits, but they must step up to the plate and provide easily accessible, basic information, so that parents can make informed decisions about the apps their kids use," FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz stated in a press release.
The FTC is currently in the process of updating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule, which requires operators of online services, including mobile apps, to provide notice and obtain parental permission prior to collecting information for children under 13. In August, the agency fined its first mobile app under the rule, slapping a $50,000 fine on W3 Innovations, LLC (Broken Thumbs Apps) for a series of apps (Emily's Girl World, Emily's Dress Up) that collected and disclosed personal information from children under 13 without obtaining parental information.
The FTC said that in the next six months, it would begin investigating whether other mobile apps are violating COPPA.
Privacy groups took the opportunity of the FTC's report to call for even stricter rules and new legislation to ensure childrens' and all consumers privacy.
"Today's report is a wake-up call that Congress should pass a privacy 'Bill of Rights' to protect all consumers online. It's time Congress put a stop to these 'wild west' mobile data collection practices," said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.
Last year, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) introduced the Do Not Track Kids Act of 2011 that would update COPPA and enhance and update provisions relating to the collection, use and disclosure of children's personal information.