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Cellphone apps investigated for possible child privacy concerns

The federal government is looking into the issue of whether children's privacy rights in Nevada and elsewhere are being respected by companies which market cellphone apps. If such privacy rights are being violated, it could lead to commercial litigation against the app developers. The concern is that many such apps could be gathering personal information from users of apps, subsequently selling the data gathered to data brokers or advertisers.

The Federal Trade Commission is in the midst of launching an official investigation into the subject. Cellphone apps have the ability, in many instances, to detect the user's location or other sensitive information, including phone numbers stored in a cellphone for friends and family.

Critics claim that this data collection can be dangerous and downright illegal when a child is involved, possibly exposing them to being stalked or preyed upon by child predators and pedophiles.

Online apps stores run by Apple, Google, and others have thousands of cellphone apps available for sale and download. The Federal Trade Commission has so far examined 400 such apps specifically marketed as appropriate for children and noted that in most instances, the companies selling them do not tell parents either what information the apps were gathering while being used or who had access to the accumulated data.

The gathered data, it is feared, could be used without the knowledge or consent of a child's parents to compile a relatively complete electronic dossier of the child's activities and preferences. In some instances, the apps themselves present advertising material to children, and such advertising may include inappropriate material such as ads for a dating service.

Source: St. Paul Pioneer Press, "Government investigating makers of cellphone apps," Richard Lardner, Dec. 10, 2012

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