New research has uncovered over 3,000 Android apps on Google Play that track and mine the personal data of children. It’s a staggeringly high number considering there is a federal law in place that prohibits tech companies from doing exactly that, and the revelation should only sound more alarm bells. The improper use of data, especially the data of children, has become a hot-button and deeply controversial issue over the past few months, and companies like Facebook and Apple have been forced to defend their privacy protections.
According to Engadget, the automated testing process examined 5,855 total apps and found that “3,337 family- and child-oriented Android apps on Google Play” were “improperly collecting data.” Of the more than 5,000 apps tested, 281 of them had been collecting the contact or location data of kid users without asking for a parent’s permission. An additional 2,281 apps appear to have violated Google’s terms of service forbidding apps from sharing “persistent identifying info” of users to the same destination as the Android Advertising ID.
While the Android mobile operating system isn’t to blame for any wrongdoing — as it’s the specific app-makers who are violating Android’s terms of service — the discovery still leaves Google in the middle of another data controversy. Just last week, over 20 advocacy and privacy groups accused YouTube, Google’s video platform, of mining the personal data of millions of young kids who use the site. Under the Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), companies are required to notify parents and receive consent before they can begin collecting any data about children younger than 13.
Researchers say their findings do not show “definitive legal liability” for Google or the Android apps being accused, but are hoping the regulators at the Federal Trade Commission will determine the extent of any potential wrongdoing and punish the offenders accordingly.