Not to be outdone by Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which a political data firm potentially skimmed the private data of around 87 million users or more, Google has been accused of violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by allowing children to be tracked by thousands of Android apps.
According to a recent study analyzing 5,855 of the most popular free children’s apps, researchers at the International Computer Science Institute (ICSI) in Berkeley found that a majority are potentially in violation of COPPA. As a result, kids under the age of 13 end up seeing targeted advertising, which shouldn’t be happening.
Days after the study, titled “‘Won’t Somebody Think of the Children?’ Examining COPPA Compliance at Scale,” began making the rounds online, a Google spokesperson finally issued a response to Tom’s Guide on Tuesday:
We’re taking the researchers’ report very seriously and looking into their findings.
Protecting kids and families is a top priority, and our Designed for Families program requires developers to abide by specific requirements above and beyond our standard Google Play policies. If we determine that an app violates our policies, we will take action. We always appreciate the research community’s work to help make the Android ecosystem safer.
It’s nice to know that Google is taking the report “very seriously,” but the fact of the matter is that Google Play is filled with millions of apps, many of which are free to download and easy to access, especially for kids who grew up around phones and tablets. If it’s this easy for app developers to skirt around the rules (whether they’re doing so purposefully or incidentally), Google is going to need to do more than “take action” against individual apps.