Products used by children are not nearly as privacy-protecting as they should be

Common Sense Media released a report examining kids’ privacy trends and practices of hundreds of popular technology companies and products over the last five years.

kids privacy practices

The report is the culmination of evaluating privacy policy data from 200 of the most popular companies and products aimed at children and students. The report finds some improvements for parents and educators, including increased transparency around privacy policies that provide more information about the products that children and students are using.

However, that same transparency also reveals the increase of problematic practices like the sale of personal data.

Across the pool of companies and apps evaluated in the report, only 26% met the minimum safeguards for all users of a product, earning a “Pass” rating. The remaining 74% scored below the threshold, earning a “Warning” rating, which indicates that these products are putting kids’ privacy at risk.

“This report shows that there is a long way to go on protecting kids’ privacy, and that continued pressure for increased regulation will improve industry practices,” says Jim Steyer, CEO of Common Sense.

“The passage of modern, sensible technology laws like the California Privacy Rights Act of 2020 and the California Consumer Privacy Act in 2019 requires companies to update their policies to meet the new standards, but we need a robust and comprehensive federal privacy law and new regulations to better protect kids, and we need the industry to step up and stop placing the burden on parents, educators, and families.”

“The state of kids’ privacy is far below parents’ expectations, and we need the industry to step up and do more to protect kids from the current reality, in which products are actively engaging in more data collection and data monetization than ever before,” says Girard Kelly, Privacy Program Director at Common Sense.

Kids’ privacy trends and practices

Apps used by children and students feature unhealthy practices that put their privacy at risk.

  • 2 out of 3 products used by youth have privacy practices that track them on the app and across the internet for advertising purposes.
  • 50% of products intended for kids have either unclear or worse practices that allow sending third-party marketing messages.
  • 4 out of 10 products have the potential to serve targeted ads to students based on their personal information.

The industry is more transparent about privacy than ever before, but has a long way to go. Over the past four years, there have been significant increases in transparency on almost every single evaluation question. While this is good, many companies are doing this only to meet the minimum requirements set by new laws and consumer expectations.

Privacy ratings help increase transparency, uncovering additional troubling practices. Companies are updating their privacy policies to discuss issues related to Common Sense’s ratings criteria. However, increased transparency has revealed additional data-collection practices that have a concerning impact on kids and families.

Selling data, often considered one of the worst practices, has increased over the past four years. This puts even more kids’ and families’ privacy at risk and further erodes trust in technology companies and products.

The findings overwhelmingly support calls for companies to step up and protect their users’ privacy rather than placing the burden on parents and teachers to read lengthy and confusing privacy policies for apps and services used by children and students. In the meantime, the report offers guidance for consumers.

Suggestions and tips for parents and educators to navigate privacy policies

  • Make informed decisions about which apps to use. Apps aren’t going anywhere, but there can be a balance of safety, features, time spent on-screen, and convenience.
  • Check privacy settings of apps before use and when “terms of use” change. Most apps have some settings inside that allow families to turn on or off varying degrees of data collection features.
  • Check Common Sense’s privacy ratings to get a thorough understanding of strong (or weak) privacy protections. Parents and educators can use our easy–to–understand privacy ratings to make informed choices about the products they use with children at home and with students in the classroom.
  • Ask companies not to sell your data. Use free online resources, like donotsell.org, to request that companies not sell your personal data for profit.
  • Make your preferences known to companies and legislators. Many parents have taken (or wanted to take) steps to limit data collection. Legislators can support this practice by mandating features that allow parental controls, and when that doesn’t fully protect kids, passing a robust federal privacy law to better protect kids and families.



Share this