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FTC To Investigate Apps For Children Over Privacy Lapses

FTC To Investigate Apps For Children Over Privacy Lapses:

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission on Monday made the unexpected announcement that it was launching “multiple nonpublic investigations” [pdf] into companies that make mobile apps designed for or marketed at children, to ascertain if any had broken federal children’s privacy laws.

The FTC declined to specify exactly which companies and apps developers were being targeted in the investigations, let alone a timeline, but warned that if any apps were found to have broken the law, “we would bring a law enforcement action…sue them,” or file a complaint and enter into a settlement, said Jessica Rich, the associate director of the FTC’s division of financial practices, in a teleconference with reporters on Monday morning.

The agency said that it found most apps for children shared potentially sensitive user information — everything from phone numbers to location — with the apps’ developers, advertisers and other third parties.

Specifically, the FTC found that of the 400 apps reviewed, 235, or nearly 60 percent, “transmitted device ID to the developer or, more commonly, an advertising network, analytics company, or other third party,” while another 14 apps transmitted geolocation information and/or the device’a phone number.

The FTC also declined to name which specific apps were at fault, “in part because we think this is a systematic problem,” Rich said.