Several child advocacy groups warn that some apps targeted at small children are potentially dangerous and costly.
Experts say many apps in the form of games or educational tools often manipulate kids with advertisements that look like they are part of the game. Kids are led to believe that if they click on the ad it will help them advance in the game. But instead, they are often taken to the app store and cajoled into buying an upgrade, according to Josh Golin executive director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.
“Almost all these games are marketed as being free yet you can’t actually do anything in the games unless you make in-app purchases,” Golin said. “And to make things worse, the characters in the games actually make explicit sales pitches to the kids who are playing these games to make the in-app purchases and they express disappointment if the children don’t buy the in-app purchases.”
Golin said researchers at the University of California, Berkeley looked at around 5,000 children's apps and found that more than half of them were likely violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
Experts say many of these apps, labeled as free and educational, also track, collect, and share sensitive information, including in some cases the user’s physical location - a violation of federal law. Golin was joined by other child advocates at a press conference along with U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, who is calling on the Federal Trade Commission to conduct an investigation into the pre-school app market.