The U.S. Federal Trade Commission on Monday announced it is launching "multiple nonpublic investigations" into companies that make popular smartphone and tablet mobile apps for children, to see if they violated federal children's privacy laws. The announcement came along with the release of a new report from the FTC that surveyed 400 childrens' apps and found them sorely lacking in privacy disclosure and options for parents, as well as that many apps transferred sensitive data from phone numbers to geolocation to developers, advertisers and other third parties, which the FTC worries could put kids at risk. As the FTC explained in its press release:
Since FTC staff’s first survey of kids’ mobile apps in 2011, staff found little progress toward giving parents the information they need to determine what data is being collected from their children, how it is being shared, or who will have access to it. The report also finds that many of the apps surveyed included interactive features, such as connecting to social media, and sent information from the mobile device to ad networks, analytics companies, or other third parties, without disclosing these practices to parents.
Aside from the investigations into whether any app-makers violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), the FTC also said it would be releasing a consumer guidance specifically geared to help parents sort through the growing list of apps for kids.