They're great for keeping your kids entertained, but are they invading your privacy? Or even your child's? A new study out this week by the Federal Trade Commission says some mobile apps are sharing too much and not properly telling people what they're sharing. Our Andrew Sorensen looks into what the study found and what experts say you can do about it.
UNITED STATES -- With so many ways to use them, smart phones and tablets seem like the perfect gift for the holidays, and more parents like Brian Allen are buying them, or entertaining the kids with the apps on their devices.
"You can go on there and download games, free games, and there's certain games that he likes to play on. So I let him download them and play for like an hour or so," Allen said while shopping for a new phone.
But what many parents don't know is there's a lot of information on your phone that you could be giving up about yourself, or even your kids, by downloading mobile games or apps.
That loss of privacy is something worth considering when your kids start downloading.
In fact, the Federal Trade Commission says nearly 60 percent of apps for kids give out personal information like geolocation, your phone number, or even your name and birthday, and about 80 percent of them fail to tell you what information they're collecting.
"I think they should be worried about it, and how it's going to be used, and how it's collected as well, too," Dave Robertson, Syracuse University Director of Operations Research, said.
That trend is cause for concern for data mining experts like Robertson. He said just looking at data isn't the problem.
"But if we're looking at individuals and looking at their behavioral trends, or looking at their patterns, then obviously there's an issue there," he said.
He said stores mine data all the time to make sure they have what you want, but it's different when the salesman follows you on all of your other errands, too.
And with kids it's not being used well. Some apps are even marketing in-game purchases to kids from 99 cents up to $40.
"So we should be a smart consumer, and know that this is actually happening," said Robertson.
That means your best course might be reading what privacy notices there are.
The good news is the FTC is pressuring the apps to disclose more privacy practices, and they plan on developing consumer education to help parents identify the bad apples.
The FTC has done one other study suggesting changes in privacy practices for phones, but they say not enough has been done since to protect consumers.
They plan to keep studying the issue until it's resolved.