Which kids apps collect the most data?


As a parent, you’ve probably worried about how much time your kids spend online and what they’re doing with that time. From using parental controls to limiting screen time and access to social media, there are many things you can do to make sure your child stays safe and doesn’t spend their whole life in front of a phone. tablet or computer screen.

But there is a hidden risk that many of us don’t consider. A recent Pew Research Center study found that by age eight, 81% of American children use a tablet. Whether your kids are playing, messaging friends, browsing social media, or watching videos, they use apps every day. Many of the most popular kids apps are constantly collecting data, but what do they learn about our children? We take a look at which apps for kids collect the most data and how you can protect your kids’ privacy.

This article is about apps for kids, but you can also find out which apps share your data the most.

What data do apps for children collect and why?

A study by the Berkley-affiliated International Computer Science Institute looked at thousands of free apps for kids on the Google Play Store. The results revealed that almost a fifth of the children’s apps studied collected “personally identifiable information” (such as name, biometrics, birthday), using “third-party software development kits (SDKs) that were not intended for use in children”. -directed applications. About 5% of apps collected contact or location data without parental consent and, worryingly, many apps also transmitted data insecurely. Here are a few different types of data apps for kids might collect about your child:

  • Contact information
  • Search and browsing history
  • Location
  • Financial information
  • contacts
  • User content
  • Usage data
  • Diagnostic
  • Identifiers
  • Shopping

Many of the developers interviewed pretended not to know that children were using their apps. Others claimed that their apps weren’t specifically marketed to children, although this is patently untrue.

Why do apps for kids collect data?

But why is children’s data so valuable and why do app developers exploit it? Under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), app developers must take steps to protect the data of children under 13 using their apps. If developers use third-party software to collect user data without consent – which happens more often than you might think and is often caused by misconfigured settings – they could be breaking the law. A study conducted by Compareitech found that around 20% of the top 500 Android apps for kids in the Google Play Store collect data that may violate COPPA regulations.

Aside from in-app purchases, many free apps make money by selling personal data to advertising networks. Games can analyze a child’s gaming habits and use this information to deliver precisely targeted advertisements for their next game, for example. Video-sharing apps (like YouTube) may collect search and viewing history to serve ads and recommended videos. Even educational games are not exempt from collecting (and sharing) children’s data.

Which apps consume the most data?

In January 2022, The ToyZone conducted a study to analyze the privacy policies of the top 100 apps for kids to see how much data they actually collect. The tables above show the top 10 data-intensive apps across a range of categories. Greenlight Kids and Teen Banking comes out on top, collecting 22 different types of data from children, including three types of “usage data” plus location information.

Perhaps surprisingly, the next worst offender was the popular AR game Pokemon Go, which collects 17 different types of data, including contact details, location, identifiers, and more. On the other hand, games like Urban landscape and educational apps like MarcoPolo Ocean don’t collect any data.

Which categories of kids apps collect the most data?

Looking at the table, it’s easy to see that some categories of kids apps are more data-intensive than others. The results of the study revealed that money management apps were the worst offenders when it came to collecting data on children, with the average app collecting 10.1 types of segments. Gaming apps, social media and messaging apps, and video streaming apps weren’t far behind. The types of apps collecting the least data on children included science apps (with only 2.4 segments of data), nature and animal apps, and coding. Let’s take a closer look at some of the worst categories of crime.

Game apps

As adults, we are used to seeing advertisements in free games, but in children’s games, these advertisements can be specifically targeted to encourage children to buy a new game or make an in-app purchase. In the games category, Pokemon Go, as we’ve already mentioned, is the worst offender, and given that the developer has a new AR bitcoin hunting game, it’s easy to see why collecting data on children’s gaming habits could be dangerous. . Other popular games that collected the most data included animal jam (16), Roblox (15), and Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp (13). This data ranged from contact information to purchases, logins and search history.

Social media and messaging apps

When it comes to social media and messaging, many parents are understandably concerned about their children spending unsupervised time on these apps. It’s no surprise that Facebook Messenger Kids collects the most data on children – 15 different types, in fact. Kinzoo Social and Fennec Messenger were not far behind. If you don’t want apps to collect data from your kids, Girl2GirlWall and Edmodo were the only two apps that didn’t collect any data.

Video streaming apps

You would think that video streaming apps like YouTube wouldn’t need to harvest a lot of data from you. But perhaps surprisingly, none of the video streaming apps in the study collected any data. YouTube came out on top, collecting 15 different types of data, including IDs, search history, and location. YouTube paid $170 million in 2019 to settle allegations of collecting personal data from children. However, it claims to do so in order to make recommendations rather than using this data for targeted advertisements. DisneyNOW and Hopster came in second and third, collecting nine and seven types of data, respectively.

Educational apps

As parents, it’s easy to assume that educational apps are a safe place for your child to grow and learn. But many popular educational apps collect data about children, like Speech Blubs: Language Therapy, which collects 12 different types of user data, or Pictowrd, which collects user content, logins, usage data, purchases, etc : nine different segments of data in all. In the study, only Easy Dyslexia Aid and MarcoPolo Ocean did not collect any data.

Protecting Children’s Privacy Online

Children using smart devices on a couch at home;
MoMo Productions/Getty Images

Seeing how much data our kids’ popular apps collect can be eye-opening, and for most of us, it’s not something we’ve really considered. Luckily, there are a few steps you can take to protect your kids from data-intensive apps.

  • Make sure to only download apps from reputable stores (like the Google Play Store) that have a child protection policy in place.
  • Install and use parental controls, especially suitable for young children using a tablet or phone.
  • Adjust privacy settings on apps after installing them, as well as on new browsers and websites.
  • Stay informed by reading articles like this, as well as studies on the most invasive applications.

It’s also a good idea to have a frank discussion with your children about the value of their personal data so that they understand the need to protect themselves.

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