Is Dora a Spy? How to Boost Cell Phone Identity Theft Safety for Kids
With everything from games and educational content to charming videos, apps for kids tend to be lively and colorful. Unfortunately, they also have a bad habit of violating user privacy.
All those scowling birds and squeaky animated characters might be doing more than entertaining children — they could also be collecting info from your kids’ cell phones. An FTC report questioned the privacy controls for app users, particularly those aimed at children and teens.
The agency found that some apps captured a broad range of user information without letting users know about it, including the user’s precise geolocation, phone number, photos and contact list. Since the report was issued, not much has changed except for even more of a boom in app usage, presenting a greater need for cell phone safety for kids.
While app developers and the FTC wrangle over privacy concerns, there are some precautions that you can take right away. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Check Your Child’s Grades
Computer researchers at Carnegie Mellon University developed PrivacyGrade.org, a site designed to raise awareness of smartphone privacy issues. Numerous apps, including many designed for children, receive letter grades based on privacy protections. For example, kids’ apps like Fruit Ninja, Despicable Me and My Talking Tom all rate a “D” for collecting user data. Check out the site when choosing apps for kids’ cell phones, and opt for A-level choices like Danger Dash and UNO & Friends. Also check out our list of dangerous apps for kids.
Employ Blocking Options
Take a spin through your child’s cell phone and get to know the parental controls you can set. For instance, you may consider blocking Internet access for younger users so they can’t post details about their activities. Also, GPS services can be limited (so that only parents and trusted friends can use the function to determine the child’s location) or disabled.
Research Apps That Rely on Voice Recordings
Some apps for kids, like My Talking Tom, let them speak with characters. But privacy advocates warn that these seemingly innocent exchanges can result in voice recordings of your child, which have the potential for being collected and stored, and perhaps even sold to advertisers.
Watch Your Bank Statement
Recently, the FTC filed a lawsuit against Amazon.com for billing parents who were surprised to find unauthorized in-app charges incurred by their children. The online retailer’s in-app system let kids buy games and other apps without parental permission. If your kids are savvy enough to navigate Amazon or other app download services, keep an eye out for possible charges, and check their cell phones for new apps that you didn’t approve.
In general, privacy concerns over apps can be scary, considering your child’s location and identity could be exposed to people you don’t know. But by focusing on protective measures, you can significantly increase cell phone safety for kids.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Traci Lawson.