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Last update: November 2019

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How To Ensure Your Children’s App Is COPPA Compliant

Data privacy is fast becoming one of the digital world’s most pressing issues. And when it comes to children, who are online more than ever, distressing news about data breaches, such as the TikTok scandal and YouTube being fined $170 million for COPPA violations. Parents may start to wonder if their kids will ever be really safe online. For most of us and the kids in our lives, going off the grid isn’t an option. So what’s the next best thing? The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) was put in place by the US Congress to protect their data and minimize their being targeted by marketing. But what are devices, mobile apps, and other platforms doing to be proactively COPPA compliant?

mobile apps

Apple’s Approach to Children’s Apps

Apple has just updated their rules surrounding children’s apps. As of June, they have changed their terms to clarify their stance on how children’s data is to be treated. Originally, their guidelines prohibited all third-party ads for children, or for children’s data being sent to third parties. Now, Apple has made this much more admissible, allowing for third-party data analytics for children as long as no personal identifiable information (PII) is transmitted.

They have relaxed the rules around ads as well:

First, the language on third-party ads and analytics has been changed from ‘may not’ to ‘should not.’ Apple is discouraging their use, but acknowledges that ‘in limited cases’ third-party analytics and advertising may be permitted if it adheres to the new rules set out in guideline 1.3.

This may be good news for mobile app developers and their business models. However, it could also be read as the beginning of a slippery slope to eroding away digital protections for children.

Android’s Approach to Children’s Apps

Android devices take a similar laissez-faire approach. Thousands of free apps in the Google Play store were discovered last year to be potentially tracking children’s online activities and targeting them with personalized ads.

A study found that 5% of these children’s apps were tracking their users’ locations and contact info without parental consent. 19% of the apps shared user information with third parties who were prohibited from advertising with children’s apps due to their marketing methods. 39% of the apps violated Google’s terms of service with regard to online sharing of sensitive PII. 40% of the apps shared user information online without effective security measures.

Clearly, you can never be too skeptical of an app’s intentions when it comes to data privacy. While tech giants like Google and Apple may have regulations in place, they’re not always top-notch at enforcing them.

Individual Apps and Their Privacy Policies

No matter how many regulations there are, the onus will always be on parents to ensure their kids are safe. The first step you should take is visiting an app’s website and reading their privacy policy. Find out what type of information they collect from users, and what it is used for. In accordance with COPPA, all privacy policies must be written in understandable language and be easy to locate. If this is not the case, that is a red flag.

Once you are satisfied with an app’s privacy policy, you can then check to see if it’s COPPA certified. There are certain vetting programs, such as kidSAFE Seal, iKeepSafe, and ESRB that will investigate kids’ apps and give them a passing grade if they make the cut. The lack of one of these seals or certificates isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker for a concerned parent. But if you see a mobile app has earned one of these programs’ mark of approval, you can feel confident that they have gone above and beyond to be data compliant.

Finally, there’s just good, old-fashioned research. Do a Google search of a certain app or company associated with that app. What kind of news or reviews show up? Are they undergoing any investigations or lawsuits? Search for them on Twitter and other social media to see what child safety experts are saying about them. If there is anything untoward about the app, you’re sure to come across it very quickly.

OpenBack Allows Children’s Apps To Be Fully COPPA Compliant

OpenBack is unique among mobile engagement platforms in that it uses edge computing to leverage user device-side data. The mobile app can engage with data to optimize push notifications, but the data never has to leave the device. OpenBack’s default mode, which can be selected by the mobile app developer, cuts out the need for third-party data processors and advertisers.

With OpenBack, users retain ownership and agency over their own data at all times. What’s more, OpenBack will immediately and permanently delete the data of any individual user (or parent), if they request.

This makes OpenBack the first choice for mobile apps who want to make children’s safety and data privacy their top priority. OpenBack is not only COPPA compliant, but compliant with HIPAA, CCPA, and GDPR as well. This has recommended our platform to various high-profile brands whose mobile games are aimed at children, including DreamWorks’ School of Dragons app.

To find out more about how OpenBack’s premium mobile engagement platform can keep your mobile app data privacy compliant, contact one of our experts.

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