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Wednesday, August 31, 2022

COPPA and more Online

More on COPPA and updates, protecting children online.


Protecting Children's Privacy Online   By Gregory Goth, Commissioned by CACM Staff, August 30, 2022

Digital games and educational apps for children can be a boon. They keep youngsters engaged in interactive play and learning, and can give parents a break.

Unfortunately, though, a large percentage of those games' characters and features are designed not to altruistically enlighten children, but to make them spend more time on the platform–and to get their parents to spend more money on extra features.

"We assume adults are better at recognizing persuasion pressure and are hopefully less magically engaged with their parasocial relationships with characters," said Jenny Radesky, M.D.,  principal investigator of the Radesky Lab at the University of Michigan Medical School. "Kids' relationships with Elmo or Daniel Tiger or Strawberry Shortcake are very important to them, and they are more likely to follow those characters' instructions."

In her lab's most recent research on children's mobile apps, Radesky found concerning evidence that game developers are putting their interests ahead of their young audience in designing and creating their products: only 20% of 133 mobile apps played by 160 children aged 3 to 5 had no manipulative design features intended to better monetize the child's experience.

The manipulative features Radesky and her colleagues found included parasocial relationship pressure, fabricated time pressure, navigation constraints, and the use of "attractive lures" to encourage longer game play or more in-app purchases. These features are usually tied to data collection mechanisms that exploit a child's inherent trust.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association's JAMA Open, seemed to confirm concerning results published elsewhere in recent months:

An analysis of evident privacy policies in products in the Google and Apple app stores by fraud, privacy, and compliance data analytics firm Pixalate, found 11% of child-directed apps in the Google Play store, and 21% of those in the Apple store, had potential access to users' personal information but no detectable privacy policy; almost 250,000 had no discernible country of origin, a nightmare for enforcement agencies.

An examination by Human Rights Watch of how well (or poorly) educational technology deployed for remote schooling during the Covid-19 pandemic protected children's privacy found that 145 of 169 educational applications "appeared to engage in data practices that put children's rights at risk, contributed to undermining them, or actively infringed on these rights."

Radesky said that while it is evident across all this research that children's privacy and priorities are given short shrift by app and game designers, it is also an encouraging sign that children's needs are now being given more widespread attention. What is not so evident is some sort of consensus about how best to address these shortcomings.

Numerous existing laws such as the U.S. federal government's Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), in place since 1998 and updated in 2013, and the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), in place since 2018, offer some level of privacy protection. However, the increasing complexity of the digital ecosystem has revealed loopholes in some of these policies that allow app developers to skirt the boundaries–and sometimes, to cross the line–of what's thical, if not outright illegal.  .... ' 

For example, COPPA's primary goal is to place parents in control of the information online games and services collect from their children under age 13. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), it applies without question to developers whose products collect, use, or disclose personal information from those children, or on whose behalf such information is collected or maintained (such as when personal information is collected by an ad network to serve targeted advertising).  .... ' 

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