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Android apps may be illegally tracking children, study finds

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Over 3300 free and popular children’s Android apps available on the Google Play Store could be violating child privacy laws, according to a new, large-scale study, highlighting growing criticism of Silicon Valley’s data collection efforts.

Researchers using an automated testing process have discovered that 3,337 family and child oriented Android apps on Google Play were improperly collecting kids’ data, potentially putting them in violation of the US’ Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA law (which limits data collection for kids under 13).

Only a small number were particularly glaring violations, but many apps exhibited behavior that could easily be seen as questionable.

Researchers analyzed nearly 6,000 apps for children and found that 3,337 of them may be in violation of the COPPA, according to the study report. The tested apps collected the personal data of children under age 13 without their parent’s permission, the study found.

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“This is a market failure,” said Serge Egelman, a co-author of the study and the director of usable security and privacy research at the International Computer Science Institute at the University of California, Berkeley.

“The rampant potential violations that we have uncovered points out basic enforcement work that needs to be done.”

The researchers are adamant that they’re not showing ‘definitive legal liability.’ These apps may be running afoul of the law, but it’s up to regulators at the FTC to decide if they are. Without iOS data, it’s also unclear how common this problem is across platforms.

The potential violations were abundant and came in several forms, according to the study. More than 1,000 children’s apps collected identifying information from kids using tracking software whose terms explicitly forbid their use for children’s apps, the study found.

The researchers also said that nearly half the apps fail to always use standard security measures to transmit sensitive data over the Web, suggesting a breach of reasonable data security measures mandated by COPPA. Each of the 5,855 apps under review was installed more than 750,000 times, on average, according to the study.

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Unfortunately for parents, there’s little consumers can do to protect themselves since the policies and business practices of app developers and ad tracking companies are often opaque, Egelman said.

The study also points to a breakdown of so-called self-regulation by app developers who claim to abide by child privacy laws, as well as by Google, which runs the Android platform, he said.

Agencies

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NASA shares creepy image of ‘spiders’ on Mars

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NASA on Thursday has released a creepy image showing ‘spiders’ on Mars, small darks spots on the reddish landscape with tendrils one could easily perceive as tiny legs.

The marks were captured by the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on May 13, 2018 at Mars’ south pole during the planet’s winter season. The ‘spiders’ make their appearance as the season turns to spring, dotting the terrain.

In fact, the ‘spiders’ seen in the image are actually ‘araneiform terrain,’ which NASA describes as “spider-like radiating mounds that form when carbon dioxide ice below the surface heats up and releases.”

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The government space agency noted that the process is not found here on Earth and is caused when carbon dioxide ice turns from a solid into a gas. The gas then builds up under the surface and ultimately breaks through in jets that deposit a darker dust around the planet.

“The loss of the sublimated carbon dioxide leaves behind these spider-like features etched into the surface,” NASA explained on its website.

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