The increasing popularity of mobile devices calls for new rules to protect the privacy of the children using them. This concern is prompted by a chilling report from the Federal Trade Commission.
According to the Associated Press, the FTC examined 400 cellphone applications designed for kids and found that most failed to inform parents about the types of data the app could gather and who could access it. Other apps contained advertising that most parents would find objectionable or included links to social media services where kids post information about themselves.
The FTC charges that companies have been quietly collecting personal information from mobile devices and sharing it with advertisers and data brokers.
The FTC is now considering major changes to the 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. With the Internet reaching into the lives of so many children, such an examination is not a moment too soon.
Changes to the law would impose stricter online safeguards for children younger than 13. In addition, the law would extend into a category of location information and data known as “persistent identifiers,” which allow a person to be tracked over time and across various websites and online services.
Parents must be concerned at the intrusion into the lives of their children. But snatching away a child’s precious mobile device isn’t a lasting solution. Changing a decades-old law to reflect new technology is a start, although advocates expect industry opposition.
Mega corporations like Apple and Google, with their online stores dominating the marketplace, have an important role to play in protecting children. It isn’t preposterous to ask these giants, along with advertisers, app developers and trade associations, to develop the necessary safeguards.
On its website, the Center for Digital Democracy in Washington points out that there are 30 percent more tracking cookies on websites aimed at children than on those aimed at adults.
Such practices raise not only serious privacy concerns, but also the hackles of parents. The idea that a child may be unwittingly opening a portal for companies to capture physical location, phone numbers of their friends and more is disturbing. And it shouldn’t be tolerated.
It is long past time to institute appropriate safeguards along this brave new frontier. Especially for the sake of the children traversing it at younger and younger ages.