Two advocacy groups called on the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Wednesday to look into whether apps labeled “Teacher approved” on Google’s Play Store are illegally gathering personal data without parental permission in order to aim advertising at children.
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), both of which have previously aided the FTC in taking action, cited evidence from three independent research groups since last June that suggested Play Store apps targeted at children secretly transmitted data about individual users to other firms.
In response to the lawsuit, Google said its app store is “committed to providing a healthy and secure atmosphere for children and families” and that it “will continue to prioritize the welfare of children on our platform.”
Google’s Play Store is the default option for downloading apps on nearly every Android smartphone and tablet in the United States. To address concerns from parents about kid-safe apps, Google markets some as meant for families and even “Teacher approved.”
The company last year said it derives labels by asking teachers across the country to rate apps on factors like “age appropriateness, quality of experience, enrichment, and delight.”
In a complaint filed to the FTC on Wednesday, the advocacy groups contend Google’s labeling is deceptive because some apps are violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA.
“What we hope will happen here is that the FTC and Google reach a settlement in which Google Play would be required to actually enforce its own requirements for developers that children’s apps comply with COPPA,” said Angela Campbell, chair of CCFC’s board.
In 2019, Google began asking developers to specify when their applications are directed at children in order to better implement its policy demanding that apps comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Security Act (COPPA). Following a complaint to the FTC in 2018, the CCFC, CDD, and other organizations expressed their dissatisfaction with Google’s app store compliance policies.