Consumer groups file complaint with FTC over Google child apps

Consumer groups file complaint with FTC over Google child apps
UPI

Dec. 19 (UPI) — Consumer advocate groups are asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether child-friendly mobile games available in the Google Play store violate privacy laws by building a profile of the children.

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act prohibits the collection of geolocation data and other private information that could be sold to advertisers. The group of 22 consumer advocate groups filed a complaint with the FTC saying Google violates COPPA and its own policies with several of its games. Many of the games are targeted at preschool age children.

“The business model for the Play Store’s Family section benefits advertisers, developers and Google at the expense of children and parents,” Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, said. “Google puts its seal of approval on apps that break the law, manipulate kids into watching ads and making purchases.”

The complaint cites several examples of child-targeted games that access a phone’s geolocation, including “Preschool Education Center” and “Top 28 Nursery Rhymes and Song” apps.

“A child-directed app that automatically collects geolocation information must notify parents and get advance, verifiable parental consent,” the groups say in their complaint.

Several other games were highlighted because they include excessive in-app purchases.

A Google spokesperson said the company takes “these issues very seriously and continued to work hard to remove any content that is inappropriately aimed at children from our platform.”

“Parents want their children to be safe online and we work hard to protect them,” they said. “Apps in our Designed for Families program have to comply with strict policies on content, privacy and advertising, and we take action on any policy violations that we find.”

The complaint also cites games in the Family section that have ads that contain references to alcoholic beverages, gambling and lingerie. Some ads have gamified features that entice young children to click on them.

The game Dentist games for kids has a 15-second video ad for a game called Warlords of Aternum that took up the entire screen and could not be turned off. After the advertisement, there’s a full-screen ad urging the user to download the game at the Google Play store. The only way to avoid downloading the game is to click a tiny “x” in the upper left corner.

“It is particularly unfair to employ such tactics on young children because their fine motor skills are just developing,” the complaint reads.

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