iOS, Android Apps Draw Concerns About Children's Privacy Protection

Apple's App Store and Google's Android Market don't provide enough information on what the data applications that they offer collect on children who use their software.

Neither Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) App Store nor Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android Market provide enough information about what data their nearly 1 billion mobile applications collect from children who use their software, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC's survey of mobile apps for children shows that app stores and app developers don't provide the information parents need to determine what data apps are taking from their kids, how the data is being used and by whom. This is not sitting well with the agency, which cites protecting children's privacy as one of its biggest goals.

This question of what data apps access and how they use it became an issue for adult users this past week. Social network service Path admitted it stored iPhone users' phone address book data on its servers without obtaining permission from users. Foursquare and Foodspotting and other iPhone apps makers did something similar. After Congressmen complained, Apple vowed that any app seeking to access contact data would require explicit user approval in the future.

The FTC meanwhile studied the disclosures apps targeted to children provide about data those programs collect.

Such data includes users' geo-location, phone numbers, contact lists and other data stored on the device, as well as ratings and parental controls for several apps in the App Store, which has more than 500,000 apps, and the Android Market, which has roughly 380,000 programs.

"While there was a diverse pool of kids apps created by hundreds of different developers, there was almost no information about the data collection and sharing on the Apple App store promotion pages and little information beyond general permission statements on the Android Market promotion pages," the FTC wrote.

"In most instances, staff was unable to determine from the information on the app store page or the developer's landing page whether an app collected any data, let alone the type of data collected, the purpose for such collection, and who . . . obtained access to such data."

FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz wrote in a statement that companies that operate in the mobile market must provide easily accessible, basic information so that parents can make informed decisions about apps before they download software for their children.

The FTC is urging app stores, developers and third parties providing services to inform parents about what data apps collect on kids.

For example, app publishers should provide plain-spoken, brief information on their data practices, including whether or not their software connects with social networks and/or contains ads.

Meanwhile, app stores, such as Apple's App Store and Google's Android Market, should provide a mechanism for sharing pricing and category data, as well as a venue for developers to provide information about their data-collection and -sharing practices.