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Report faults children’s apps on data

Parents in dark on what’s shared

Hundreds of mobile apps for children fail to provide parents with basic information on the kinds of sensitive information the apps collect and share about their children, said a new federal report Monday.

Only 20 percent of children’s apps provided disclosures about their data collection practices, according to a staff report from the Federal Trade Commission released Monday. The apps that did offer disclosures often provided links to long, dense, technical privacy policies ‘‘filled with irrelevant information,’’ according to the report. Other apps, it said, gave misleading information about their practices.

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The agency’s study examined the privacy policies of 400 popular children’s apps — half of them available through the Apple App Store and the other half through Google’s Android Market — and compared the apps’ disclosures to their actual data collection practices.

“Most apps failed to provide any information about the data collected through the app, let alone the type of data collected, the purpose of the collection, and who would obtain access to the data,’’ the FTC report said. ‘‘Even more troubling, the results showed that many of the apps shared certain information’’ — like a device’s phone number, precise location, or unique identification code — with third parties, according to the report.

More than half of the apps studied were transmitting children’s data, often to marketers. The researchers also reported that most apps failed to tell parents when they involved interactive features like advertising, social network sharing, or allowing children to make purchases for virtual goods within the app. For instance, while 9 percent of the children’s apps disclosed to parents that they contained advertising, FTC researchers found that 58 percent actually contained ads.

The report added that some of these practices could violate the FTC’s prohibition against unfair or deceptive practices. The practices could also violate a federal law, called the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998. That law requires website operators to obtain parental permission before collecting or sharing personal information about children under 13.

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