Moms 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.
PrivacyGrade 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.
I 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.
Before 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.