Over 3,000 free Android apps found to be exploiting kids’ privacy

online privacy kidsFor parents today, giving their kids access to apps is just a fact of life. If you are like many parents, you probably have some type of “permission” feature set up that allows you to approve anything your child tries to download. You might look at the app, see that it appears kid-friendly, and then blindly allow your kid to download it themself.

If that all sounds familiar, scary new research has found that you are likely exposing your child’s privacy — opening up their device’s microphone, camera, and location.

It’s tough for most people to understand an app’s terms and conditions. Many of us accept permissions without first reading the fine print (because who reads the fine print?), and if we as adults don’t understand what we’re signing up for, there’s no chance our children do. So what happens when we grant these apps permissions? We agree access to the camera, microphone, and GPS, but also things like our contact list, email, and more.

Just think about that for a second. This isn’t just an invasion of privacy, it’s downright dangerous.

Worse still, this research found that more than 3,000 free Android apps targeting children are not only tracking users’ activity, but also their location data and contact information—all without parental consent.

Researchers discovered this after creating a testing tool, which allowed them to scan about 6,000 apps in Google Play. Nearly half of those had issues with their policies on data privacy. Many of these apps are collecting the data, and then selling it to other companies, meaning there’s no telling what type of information is already out there about your children.

Furthermore, the research showed that about 5 percent of these apps were collecting things like emails, phone numbers, and location data. About 19 percent of them were sharing sensitive information with third-parties, and 39 percent of apps viewed were sharing identifiers, which is in violation of the terms of service from Google. Plus, 40 percent of apps shared information without making sure the data was secure.

And all of these apps may actually be breaking the law; it remains illegal to collect and track data from users who are under the age of 13.

Unfortunately, even though some of these apps could potentially be violating the U.S. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, legal action may never happen. Why? Because there’s a whole lot of gray in that law, and the FTC might not actually view them as breaking anything.

So what can you do as parents?

Firstly, read every line of fine print when it comes to giving permission for your kids’ apps, and always download anything for them so you can deny access to things the app doesn’t need. If you’re concerned about a current app that they’re using, spend some time going through the app’s privacy settings to understand precisely what they signed up for—and be ready to pull the plug if something doesn’t sound right.

Above all, take online privacy seriously. We live in a connected age where kids are going to be online, and our job as parents is to understand the landscape and provide the necessary protection.

Secure your kids’ devices today by downloading Hotspot Shield for free; ensure their online activities remain anonymous and shielded from prying eyes.

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