Do You Know Where Your Children Are? Because Their Apps Do!

By Chrissy Giglio and Shannon Kelly of Fueled, a mobile app development company in NYC

(We’ve engaged our friends at Fueled to provide us and our readers with relevant tips and suggestions from time to time – we have found their technical knowledge gleaned from developing apps to be quite useful!)

“Make sure you read the fine print!” How often have we heard this phrase? I know if you are signing a contract, you read the fine print. But what about when you download a new app? In a recent study by the FTC, findings showed that many apps are collecting data and personal information without informing the consumer. Even more concerning is that many of these consumers are children. There are certain restrictions and guidelines currently in place with regard to marketing and advertising towards children via print or television. But with the rise of mobile technology, the issue needed to be re-examined.

We have replaced the coloring book in our toddler’s hand with a tablet, and teenagers all across the country can be found glued to their smartphone playing with the newest apps and social media. The problem is not that children use mobile technology, but instead how this mobile technology uses them. The issue is of privacy, more specifically, what information can app developers find out about you.

Many of these apps allow for geolocation, i.e. tracking the location of the user. They can also create a user profile based off of the demographics gathered. By having such access to a child’s personal app usage, they will be able to target different ages and genders with advertisements of products that they believe will fit their interests. The FTC found that this was often done without the child’s or parent’s knowledge.

Indeed, as parents, the biggest concern is to keep our children safe. We tell our kids to not tell a stranger his name, or to disclose where she lives. But when they are downloading a new app on their tablet or Smartphone and are unknowingly giving this information up, how can we protect them? Of course parents are upset by this information. The FTC has now exposed the issue. What lies ahead is how we are going to fix it.

All of this is not to say that app developers should be branded the enemy. As parents we need to take the responsibility of monitoring our child’s app usage in the same way we would make sure the tangible toys they play with are safe. The privacy details need to be clearer, in order for parents to do their job as parents. Hopefully, concerned parents and app developers will be able to agree on a set of terms, in order to keep the tech world a safe environment for children while promoting growth and education.

How can I protect my kids?

If you are concerned about your childrens privacy there are some steps you can take.

  • Inside the “Privacy” section of your iPhone’s settings you can disable location tracking for apps.
  • You should not give your child his or her own Apple password that would allow them to download apps without your permission.
  • You can control what information they give to app developers when they load apps for the first time.
  • Follow our “parental controls” tip in our article about iPhone Features you didn’t know about