Today the FTC issued guidance for companies developing mobile applications for children. Here are the key recommendations that every mobile developer should take away:
App developers should provide this information through simple and short disclosures or icons that are easy to find and understand on the small screen of a mobile device. Parents should be able to learn what information an app collects, how the information will be used, and with whom the information will be shared. App developers also should alert parents if the app connects with any social media, or allows targeted advertising to occur through the app. Third parties that collect user information through apps also should disclose their privacy practices, whether through a link on the app promotion page, the developers’ disclosures, or another easily accessible method.
I’m also hoping that Apple and Google are tuning into the FTC’s urging that they do much more to enforce their privacy-policy requirements:
The app stores also should do more to help parents and kids. The two major app stores provide the basic architecture for communicating information about the kids apps they offer, such as pricing and category information. However, the app stores should provide a more consistent way for developers to display information regarding their app’s data collection practices and interactive features. For example, app stores could provide a designated space for developers to disclose this information. The app stores also could provide standardized icons to signal features, such as a connection with social media services. Although the app store developer agreements require developers to disclose the information their apps collect, the app stores do not appear to enforce these requirements. This lack of enforcement provides little incentive to app developers to provide such disclosures and leaves parents without the information they need. As gatekeepers of the app marketplace, the app stores should do more. This recommendation applies not just to Apple and Google, but also to other companies that provide a marketplace for kids mobile apps.
I’ve written before about the disfunctional privacy framework of the app marketplaces. With the talent and resources available to these companies, there’s no reason that we can’t quickly have a framework that works much better for users (kids and grownups!) and meets the FTC challenge. It’s time to get on with it.