WASHINGTON — Children have easy and inexpensive access to hundreds of smartphone applications, but parents are in the dark about what personal information is being collected from their children and how companies are using the data, government regulators said Thursday.
The Federal Trade Commission said companies that make mobile apps and the stores that sell them should be providing parents with basic, simple-to-understand information about their products so they can choose which apps their children can use. The report also says developers should disclose whether their apps connect with social media services or include advertisements.
Mobile apps can automatically capture smartphone information, such as a person's location, phone number, call logs and personal contacts.
The market for mobile apps has exploded over the past few years, according to the FTC. In 2008, there were about 600 apps available to smartphone users. Now there are hundreds of thousands that have been downloaded more than 28 billion times, the commission said.
"This rapidly growing market provides enormous opportunities and benefits for app users of all ages, but raises questions about users' privacy, especially when the users are children and teens," the report by the FTC staff said.
Using the word "kids," FTC staff searched online app stores and examined pages promoting apps for word games, math and number games, and entertainment. Most of the product descriptions stated that they were for use by children. Prices for the apps ranged from free to $9.99. "But most apps were $0.99 or less, and free apps were overwhelmingly the most frequently downloaded," the report said.