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Agency urges caution over kids' cellphone applications

Dec. 12, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

Parents worried about their children's privacy should pay close attention to the cellphone applications they are using. Many apps targeted to children could be gleaning personal information about kids or steering them to advertising and social media sites that are inappropriate, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC, in a report released Monday, described mobile applications as a digital danger zone, based on the agency's examination of 400 applications designed for children. The FTC found:

Most failed to inform parents about the types of data the app could gather and who could access it.

60 percent of them conveyed the user's device identification to the software company or, more frequently, to advertising networks and data brokers that compile, analyze and sell consumer information for marketing campaigns. The device ID is a path to more personal information, such as a person's name, phone number and email address.

More than a dozen of the apps that transmitted device IDs also sent the user's exact geographic location and phone number.

The FTC hopes to clamp down on possible privacy invasions with changes to current law, including a requirement to prohibit the use of behavioral marketing techniques to track and target children unless a parent approves. The proposed revisions also would cover a category of location information and data known as "persistent identifiers," which allow a person to be tracked over time and across various websites and online services.

Meanwhile, we urge parents to take a close look at the apps they're children are using and try to decipher whether they should be removed.

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