Does your favorite app make the grade?

pg angry birdsMoms with Apps asked parents what they considered the most important quality when choosing an app for their child. The number one quality “extremely important” to parents was does the app protect their child’s personal information. Protecting personal information ranked above both educational and age appropriate. How can you tell if the app your child wants protects their information?

It is not easy. In 2012, the FTC investigated mobile apps aimed at kids. After reviewing hundreds of apps for kids the FTC found little, if any, information about the data collection and sharing practices of these apps. In fact, one of the recommendations the FTC made was for companies to provide this information through simple and short disclosures or icons that are easy to find and understand. The website, PrivacyGrade, is trying to do just that.

pg instagramPrivacyGrade launched in November. Here, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University have analyzed over 100,000 apps and assigned each a privacy grade. An app receives a grade from A to D depending on how well it discloses its privacy practices. Like an online report card, parents can look up why an app received a “D” or “A” grade.

A high grade does not necessarily mean the app protects privacy. An “A” grade means the app collects what people would expect it to collect. For example, Instagram receives an A because it discloses it collects location data and uses it to allow users to add location to their photos or videos. Tagged receives a “D” grade. It also collects location for use in the app but it gets a “D” for not disclosing it shares it with ad companies for market analysis and target ads.

pg fruit ninjaI was curious how apps popular with teens ranked. Most did quite well either receiving an “A” or “B” except for dating apps. These apps such as tagged, meetme and skout received a grade of “C “or “D” due to the amount of information they shared with advertisers.

Some of the worst offenders were the games younger kids love. Talking Tom, Fruit Ninja and Words with Friends all received a “D” grade. Again, these low grades were due to the amount of sensitive information the app share with targeted advertising and marketing companies.

privacy grade slideBefore downloading an app, parents and kids should check out PrivacyGrade. After checking grades, families can look up the ESRB rating and read the app reviews on CommonSenseMedia to find out more including age appropriateness and educational value.




Late holiday gift for parents – YouTube Kids App

Most of my blog posts focus on teens and what they are doing online. With touchscreens and tablets, younger and younger kids are playing in the digital world. Like the real world, there are places in the digital world where you do not want your kids hanging out. How do parents allow young kids the freedom to explore while keeping them out of adult spaces?

This is a tough question. Take YouTube. Kids love watching YouTube with so many choices of cartoons, shows, tutorials and music. Here, a child can find a humorous Minecraft video right next to one full of swearing that would make most parents cringe. Kapersky Lab found that kids, clicking on YouTube’s suggested videos displayed beside children’s programs, were just three clicks away from adult content. YouTube does have a safe mode. While this may eliminate some of the adult content, it doesn’t remove all of it.

youtube minecraft
youtube kids icon

This Monday, YouTube released its own video app just for kids.  YouTube Kids is available on Google Android and Apple IOS. The YouTube Kids app is not YouTube with more parental controls. This app is designed for kids and has only content appropriate for children. Kids can browse channels and playlists in four categories: Shows, Music, Learning and Explore. Yesterday, I played around with this new app.

youtube kids begin
YouTube Kids has great content from DreamWorksTV to PBS Cyberchase. It does appear to be aimed primarily at younger kids, I would say less than 8. The app does not require kids or parents to create an account. Simply download the app and start watching videos. YouTube Kids does have commercials. Like YouTube, kids can skip it after 5 seconds and unlike YouTube these commercials are kid friendly.

youtube kids controls

If a child tries to venture outside the confines of kid appropriate videos by searching for “sex” or other inappropriate terms they see this screen. Parents can also turn off the search function.

youtube kids search
YouTube Kids has parental controls. Parents can set these controls by tapping the lock symbol in the bottom left corner. After entering a random 4-digit pincode, parents can turn off the search function, background music as well as set a timer for how long kids can watch videos. The random 4-digit pincode may work well for a child who cannot read but an older child could certainly enter the code themselves and turn off the controls. When using the timer, parents should still keep an eye on the clock.

youtube kids pincode
Google says this is the first step toward a YouTube for families and is interested in feedback. Parents can send their thoughts to Google in “Feedback” within the app. They can also use Feedback if they find content not safe for kids. We need more companies creating family friendly products instead of slapping an over 13 warning in their Terms of Service. Hopefully, YouTube Kids is a sign of more great products to come.