Buckle up app developers, The FTC is making moves. This time they have their sights set on kids’ apps.
Last week, the commission announced the results of study analyzing how apps in the Android Market and Apple App Store disclose data collection information.
About The FTC Kid’s App Study
In the kid’s app study, the FTC looked at about 1000 of the top kid’s apps on both the Apple and Android online stores (500 each). The findings are detailed and can be found here.
The gist of the conclusion: in “most instances” kid’s apps didn’t have proper policies and features explaining what data was collected and how it would be used.
New COPPA Rules On The Way For Kids Apps
In the announcement, the FTC announced it was also working on amendments to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Due to consumer pressure, and a changing technological landscape, provisions for mobile apps are expected to be added to the federal children’s online privacy bill soon.
Update: The FTC made the proposed COPPA changes for kids’ apps official at the end of December 2012.
FTC Heat Forcing New Apple and Android Developer Procedures
“Developers should provide simple disclosures that explain what information an app collects, how it will be used, and with whom it will be shared,” explained the FTC. Developers should also disclose if the app connects with social media or includes targeted ads.
Simple privacy policies and disclosures, which clearly delineate what type of information an app collects and how it will be used is the key to keeping the FTC off your back.
Currently, the Apple Marketplace doesn’t require developers to disclose whether or not they share information, but the company insists they reject programs that target children for data collection. Due to the new FTC focus on kids’ apps, Apple will now require applicants to divulge this information when submitting work for review.
The Android market does currently require developers to include descriptions of their data dealings as it relates to their apps — but expect them to also tighten their standards.
Industry Reactions To The Kid’s App Study & Statement
A representative from the Association for Competitive Technology – an app developer advocacy group – pointed out that many developers aren’t being malicious, but instead simply don’t know about the laws associated with selling mobile apps and various federal and state privacy statues. The rep also cautioned, “We also believe that while the overwhelming majority of children’s app makers are well-intentioned, if there are those who operate with malice outside the law, we fully endorse regulatory action by the FTC.”
The Center for Digital Democracy, in support of the FTC’s new rules said, “Both Google and Apple, the two leading mobile app companies, must do a much better job protecting children’s privacy.”
So what should you do if you’re a kids app developer? Consult with a technology lawyer and make sure your program is hooked up with the correct policies. An app lawyer will also walk you through the rules and advise on “how far you can go” without breaking the law.