Parents trying to protect their child’s privacy and data security online are grappling with two main concerns — information-sharing by children and data-mining by companies — only one of which they may have some meaningful control over.
With the growing use of mobile devices and apps at home and in school, an increasing number of companies are compiling and analyzing details about children’s online activities. Some sites that offer video games featuring cartoon characters, for instance, track children’s activities around the web with the aim of tailoring advertisements to them. Some apps popular with children can collect information like their whereabouts or phone numbers.
A federal law, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or Coppa, is designed to provide some online safeguards. It requires online operators to obtain a parent’s consent before collecting personal details from a child under 13.
Unfortunately for concerned parents, that law applies only to sites and apps specifically directed at young children — and not to general-audience sites frequented by adults and children. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal, for instance, reported that digital marketing companies are scouring, storing and analyzing the images people post on Instagram and Pinterest, another photo-sharing site, to help advertisers hone their pitches.
In a recent research project, he and his team studied the types of information collected by a number of animated game apps. Then they assigned each a privacy grade based on the kinds of data the app collected that a user might not have expected. Their ratings are available at www.privacygrade.org.
The researchers reported, for instance, that Fruit Ninja, a free fruit-slicing game, collected information about a user’s location, phone number and the phone’s unique identification code, apparently for the purposes of tailoring ads to users. The app received a D grade in privacy.
“Personally, as a parent, I would not like my kid’s location to be tracked, even by advertisers,” said Dr. Hong. “It’s sort of a judgment call what your comfort level is with this.” Read More
Analysis: This serves as yet another wakeup call (still mostly unheeded) for parents to be hyper-vigilant about their children's privacy, especially their mobile location. You know it's coming - a child abducted due to hacked or carelessly protected location information. Technology is changing too fast for laws to keep up with it, and there are too many cracks in (and outright not caring about) mobile app security to take location data security for granted.