Technology 2 min read

New Tool can Help Protect Children's Online Privacy

one photo / Shutterstock.com

one photo / Shutterstock.com

The researchers from the University of Texas have developed a tool to determine whether an app complies with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

The apps on our smartphones can access identifiable information such as names, email addresses, and location.

Similarly, these applications can also use IMEI, MAC addresses, and Android advertising ID to identify individual devices. So, app developers can collect and sell information on user interest to advertisers.

That’s where the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) comes in.

According to the COPPA directive, website and online services must obtain parental consent before collecting information from anyone below the age of 13. However, a University of Texas study revealed that many popular apps and games don’t comply with the directive.

In a statement to the press, lead author of the study said, Dr. Kanad Basu said:

“If your kid asks you to download a popular game app, you’re likely to download it. A problem with our society is that many people are not aware of—or don’t care about—the threats in terms of privacy.”

The researchers introduced a new tool for COPPA Tracking in IEEE Transactions on Information Forensics and Security.

Developing a Tool to Help Protect Children’s Online Privacy

Basu and colleagues developed a tool that can determine whether an Android app or other mobile game complies with COPPA.

In a test, the researchers checked 100 mobile apps for kids and discovered that 72 violated the law to protect children’s online privacy. What’s more, the tool arrived at this conclusion with 99 percent accuracy.

According to Basu, games, and apps that violate COPPA pose privacy risks and could help bad actors discover children’s identity and location. The risk is further heightened since more people are accessing apps from home due to the pandemic.

“Suppose the app collects information showing that there is a child on Preston Road in Plano, Texas, downloading the app,” Basu said. “A trafficker could potentially get the user’s email ID and geographic location and try to kidnap the child.”

At the moment, the researchers are improving the tool, which should be available for users to download at no cost. Meanwhile, the lead author of the study recommends caution when downloading apps.

“I try to limit my downloading of apps as much as possible,” Basu said. “I don’t download apps unless I need to.”

Read More: Activists Fear Current Pandemic may Kill Privacy Rights

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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