BBB Tip: Is that Santa app safe? Better check it twice

Published 4:59 pm Wednesday, December 6, 2023

From the Better Business Bureau:

Apple’s App Store and Google Play offer a range of holiday-themed apps for your enjoyment.

Kids can engage in live video chats with Santa, illuminate the menorah, witness Santa’s live reindeer feeding, monitor Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve, or communicate their Christmas wish lists. It’s evident that apps will continue to play a significant role during the holiday season.

However, before permitting your child to download any app, it’s essential to understand the data it may collect and establish appropriate permission settings.

The Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) recommended these tips to keep in mind.

Know your privacy rights

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) gives parents control over who collects information from their children online. COPPA applies to all mobile apps and websites (or portions thereof) directed to kids. COPPA was designed to ensure that parents affirmatively consent to the collection of personal information from children under the age of 13 prior to collection.

Personal information includes names and addresses, email addresses, photographs, or precise geolocation information, among others.

Tips for parents:

Here are some improved guidelines for a safer and more informed app selection process:

● Review the privacy policy: Responsible apps designed for children should offer a clear and accessible privacy policy. Apps and websites provide links to their privacy policy in the app store or on its homepage. If you can’t find a privacy policy, it’s a warning sign that its privacy and data collection practices may not comply with COPPA, and you should carefully consider whether you want to download that app. A comprehensive privacy policy should include information on who collects personal data, the types of data collected, its intended use, storage procedures, data access, parental rights, and opt-out options.

● Understand data collection: Online services for children cannot collect photos, videos, or voice recordings from children under 13 without first obtaining parental consent.
Apps must also obtain parental approval before children share personal information publicly. Prior to your child downloading an app, investigate what kind of data it may collect, using resources like Apple’s Privacy Details section in the App Store.

● Set permission controls: Many free apps may include in-app purchases that children can access once the app is downloaded with parental consent. Ensure that your child’s device requires a password for each download.

● Exercise caution with free apps: Most free apps tend to feature more advertising than those with a nominal fee. Free apps, including educational ones, may incorporate deceptive or inappropriate advertising practices. Ads can be frequent and mandatory to advance in a game, sometimes tempting children to purchase in-game items. Apps meant for both children and parents may display ads intended for older audiences. Even free apps without visible ads may still collect data for future ad targeting. Adjust your device settings to mitigate surreptitious ad targeting. To avoid furtive ad targeting, make sure to adjust your iOS or Android device settings.

● Think before downloading: Be cautious about downloading apps, as some free apps may contain malware. To ensure the safety of your device, make sure the app store page includes a privacy policy link, contact information, and the publisher’s address details.

Use common sense to assess the app’s credibility, as crude designs or imitations of well-known characters may indicate potential issues.

● Read reviews: Services such as Common Sense Media can help you determine whether the app’s content is suitable for your child.

By following these guidelines, you can make more informed decisions when selecting apps for your child, ensuring their online experiences are safe and enjoyable.