How Do I Know If an App Protects My Child's Privacy?

Thanks to laws that help pro­tect chil­dren online, par­ents shouldn’t wor­ry about their child’s pri­va­cy on apps, right? Wrong. Despite the Children’s Online Pri­va­cy Pro­tec­tion Act, not all apps pro­tect their young users’ per­son­al infor­ma­tion. In fact, the prob­lem might be more wide­spread than you think.

A study pub­lished last year looked at 5,855 free Android apps mar­ket­ed to kids and fam­i­lies to gauge whether they fol­low COP­PA stan­dards. Over half of them showed signs of vio­lat­ing child pri­va­cy rules. Does the same apply to your family’s favorite apps?

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, it’s not easy to tell at first glance whether an app is safe. It’s up to par­ents to do a lit­tle dig­ging to deter­mine if an app is trust­wor­thy enough to let their chil­dren use it. To help you keep your chil­dren safe in apps, we cre­at­ed this quick guide on how to tell if the apps your chil­dren use are COP­PA compliant. 

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Determining Whether an App is COPPA Safe

Here are a few things that sig­nal an app might be safe for your children. 

Check the Privacy Policy

To com­ply with COP­PA, all web­sites and apps have to pro­vide a pri­va­cy pol­i­cy that clear­ly out­lines what infor­ma­tion they col­lect, use, and dis­close from chil­dren. This pri­va­cy pol­i­cy should be easy to find and digest. If you can’t find an app’s pri­va­cy pol­i­cy, or if you pull it up and strug­gle to under­stand what the app does with your child’s per­son­al infor­ma­tion, don’t risk it.

Check out Jel­lies’ pri­va­cy pol­i­cy, for exam­ple. We clear­ly state that we don’t col­lect ANY per­son­al infor­ma­tion from children. 

Look for COPPA Certifications and Seals

Apps that take COP­PA seri­ous­ly go out of their way to get cer­ti­fied. If you see any COP­PA seals or cer­ti­fi­ca­tions on an app’s web­site, app store list­ing, or mar­ket­ing mate­ri­als, chances are it’s a win­ner. Be on the look­out for badges from: 

Just so you know, Jel­lies is Kid­SAFE-COP­PA cer­ti­fied! 😉

Do Some Research

You can learn a lot about an app by read­ing through some of the app store reviews or doing a quick Google search. If an app is a known COP­PA vio­la­tor, you may encounter arti­cles about law­suits or com­plaints from edu­ca­tors and par­ent­ing advocates. 

To take it a step fur­ther, check out Com­mon Sense Media’s app rat­ings and reviews. If you want to learn more about a par­tic­u­lar Android app, try run­ning it through the App­Cen­sus data­base for a break­down on the app’s pri­va­cy settings.

Popular Apps That Are NOT COPPA Compliant

You might be sur­prised to learn that some of the most pop­u­lar apps and web­sites don’t fol­low key pri­va­cy rules for chil­dren. YouTube and Face­book are among those that aren’t COP­PA com­pli­ant. That’s because both plat­forms claim to cater to a gen­er­al audi­ence. While COP­PA only applies to apps and web­sites for chil­dren under 13, larg­er apps like YouTube and Face­book say their users are 13 and older. 

There’s no deny­ing that chil­dren under 13 watch videos on YouTube and cre­ate pro­files on Face­book. Whether the plat­forms should be held account­able for that is up for debate. Par­ent­ing advo­cates, for exam­ple, argue that YouTube goes so far as to col­lect data on child users to tar­get them with advertising.

Learn More About Your Child's Right to Privacy Online

COP­PA real­ly is a parent’s best friend, but it’s some­times dif­fi­cult to under­stand. To learn more about COP­PA, check out our resource What Every Par­ent Should Know About COP­PA. You can also head straight to the source for a more detailed look at the law on the Fed­er­al Trade Com­mis­sion web­page.

We rec­om­mend learn­ing more about ways to pro­tect your child online beyond pri­va­cy con­cerns. Check out the Jel­lies blog for more par­ent­ing resources to learn more about the trou­ble with pop­u­lar kids apps and how to set up parental con­trols on your iPhone or iPad.