Android Games Track Kids’ Location, Bitdefender Warns
Android apps monitor the location of babies and small children, despite the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which requires developers not to access such personal information without parental consent, according to antivirus software provider Bitdefender. These permissions are not necessary for the apps’ functionality.
Though the updated COPPA went into effect on July 1, free apps targeting small children, such as Kids ABC Games and Educational Puzzles, still track or try to access geo-locations without requesting information that only parents can provide. Developers admit the games were created for children from 0 to 8, but also provide their personal details to third parties.
“Why would an alphabet game require kids’ precise GPS and network-location?” said Bitdefender Chief Security Strategist Catalin Cosoi. “Of course, it’s to make money, sending these details to aggressive third-party advertisers. Despite the new legislation, games for kids still collect massive quantities of personal information about children without parental consent.”
Some of the risky educational apps for children also try to access browsing history and leak the unique identifier of the device. This can be used by developers, advertisers and analytics tools to track their behavior across several apps.
A recent Bitdefender study showed that children get their first Android device as young as 5, boosting the risk that malware infections and SMS fraud target users who are still only learning to read. The survey of more than 2,000 parents worldwide revealed that an increasing number of American children aged 7 to 9 and almost 3 per cent of 5 year-olds own a smartphone or a tablet.
The new COPPA expanded the definition of “personal information” for children under 13 to geo-location, photos, videos and audio files. Advertisers and developers are also banned from “behavioral advertising” without parents’ consent, including “re-targeting” commercials based on browsing history.
To prevent kids from accessing risky apps, parents may install Clueful, a free Bitdefender app for Android and iOS that identifies intrusive apps and shows users how these could abuse their personal information.
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This article is based on the technical information provided courtesy of Octav CHELARU, Bitdefender Virus Analyst.