As your preschooler plays an alphabet game, does a puzzle or dresses up a favorite character through an app on a phone or tablet, companies may be stealthily collecting their personal information for marketing purposes.
Just like adults, children often leave digital footprints disclosing what websites they use and which games they play as well as data identifying their location and device.
Except their information is supposed to be off limits to advertisers.
But while federal privacy laws prohibit digital platforms from storing and sharing children’s personal information without verifiable parental consent, those rules aren’t always enforced, researchers find. And privacy violations are most likely to affect kids from lower-education households.
Children raised by parents without college degrees showed two to three times higher rates of digital information being transferred to third parties, according to the study that appears in JAMA Pediatrics.
“Our study suggests that potential violations of child digital privacy laws are common, and social economic factors may influence which children are at greater risk for these violations,” says senior author Jenny Radesky, M.D., developmental behavioral pediatrician and Michigan Medicine C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.
Potential factors that may explain this disparity include the degree of digital savviness or privacy awareness that parents have, authors say, which tends to correlate with level of education. Parents with advanced degrees also may research kids’ apps before installing them, thereby avoiding the glut of lower-quality kids’ apps in the app stores that could harbor more data trackers, Radesky says.
Advertisers can learn a lot about consumers from how they spend time on smartphones and tablets, such as what they download or purchase, their location and frequently visited websites. For this reason, many apps collect device’s unique identifiers (like Google’s ‘advertising ID’ or ‘Android ID’ or even