Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), members of the Senate Commerce Committee, are calling upon the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the practices of app developers, advertising companies, and app stores, after a recent study found that thousands of apps were accessing children’s sensitive data without providing notice or obtaining the required consent.
In a letter to the FTC, Markey and Blumenthal raised their concern about the large number of children’s apps potentially violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. They also expressed concern about whether parents are being misled when app stores promote certain apps as designed for children, when in fact they are not appropriate for kids. Reports of those alleged violations recently appeared both several academic papers and in the New York Times.
“Given the sensitive nature of children’s personal information, app developers, advertising companies, and companies with app stores must take responsible steps to protect kids’ privacy and comply with COPPA,” the Senators wrote. “We urge the FTC to investigate whether these apps, and the advertising companies they work with, are in fact tracking children with persistent identifiers and collecting their personal information in violation of COPPA, and whether parents are being misled about their practices by their placement in ‘kids’ or ‘families’ sections of app stores.”
Markey is the original House author of COPPA, which requires companies to obtain parental consent before collecting personal information from children under the age of 13.
Further fueling concerns is a lawsuit filed last month against various tech companies for illegally tracking children online by New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas.
The suit, filed against Google, Twitter, Tiny Lab Producions, MoPub, AerServ, InMobi PTE, AppLovin, and IronSource, alleges the apps designed by Tiny Lab Productions and marketed by Google in its Play Store are targeted at children and contain illegal tracking software.
This illegal data collection allows Defendants, and whoever they sell this data to, to track, profile, and target millions of children nationwide, the lawsuit says.
“These apps can track where children live, play, and go to school with incredible precision,” Balderas said in a statement. “These multi-million-dollar tech companies partnering with app developers are taking advantage of New Mexican children, and the unacceptable risk of data breach and access from third parties who seek to exploit and harm our children will not be tolerated.”