On February 16, the Federal Trade Commission released a report that looked at the effectiveness of privacy disclosures made by mobile apps for children.  The results of the report are dismal.  The FTC dubbed the privacy disclosures  “disappointing” because it would be nearly impossible for an average consumer to figure out what data a mobile app was collecting and how that data would be used.

Privacy disclosures are key to helping consumers make informed choices about their privacy.  Disclosures should be simple and should help the consumer understand what the company intends to do with their data. The children’s mobile apps surveyed by the FTC, however, did not provide the information necessary for a parent or child to be able to determine what information is being collected or how it will be used.

The report makes several recommendations.  First and foremost, app stores, developers, and third parties tied to applications should be more active in providing disclosures about data collection and use to parents prior to the purchase of an app.  The disclosures need to be short and simple, so that they are easy to read on a mobile phone screen.  App stores need to design a way for developers to easily display data collection and use information on the purchase page for any given app.

The FTC report is further evidence that federal legislation is needed to protect children and teens online, particularly in the mobile app marketplace.  Congressman Markey and Congressman Barton have introduced the “Do Not Track Kids Act of 2011,” H.R. 1895.  This bipartisan bill would give parents control over whether data about their kids under 13 is collected and used, and would also provide heightened privacy protections for teens online.

By Michelle Schaefer