Examination of Apps Shows Small Minority Share Location

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) today released a study of privacy and mobile apps for kids. The report was a follow up to an earlier study issued in January. Both reports were highly critical of app developers and app stores. Both found that parents weren't given enough information to assess privacy policies and whether or how their kids' information was being used. 

The FTC looked at 400 apps (randomly selected) that were directed toward kids. The agency compared privacy policies and actual practices. It found: 

[The] industry appears to have made little or no progress in improving its disclosures since the first kids’ app survey was conducted . . . most apps failed to provide basic information about what data would be collected from kids, how it would be used, and with whom it would be shared.

In a few cases privacy policies were directy contradicted by actual practices and the FTC called these apps deceptive and potentially illegal.  

The report's findings are interesting and potentially important for the debate over mobile privacy. However the specific finding I want to focus on here has to do with the number of apps that transmitted location information to ad networks. 

Mobile apps (for kids) that share information with developers and ad networks 

 

Source: FTC 

Only 3% of apps that transmitted information back to developers and ad networks shared location data. The iPhone makes that process more explicit than does Android. But when location isn't shared there can't be any location-based ads.

Apps for kids aren't ncessarily representative of the entire universe of apps. Indeed, location may be much less of a factor in apps for kids. But the data may be directionally consistent with the market as a whole, inducating how relatively few apps today offer opportunities to display location-based ad inventory.