Protecting Kids Online, There’s No App for That

Nighty Night! App

The FTC reminded us Monday what many a parent knows all too well: Not all kids’ apps are safe, especially where privacy is concerned. So, as a parent of two small children in a house full of tablets, what do I do to keep them safe? Here are my guidelines:

Read the reviews: Parents may be the most vocal group when it comes to app reviews, and the commentary under kids’ apps will tell you almost immediately if there’s a concern. If you notice a bunch of five-stars and just one or two one-star reviews, you’re probably safe, but if you see an issue mentioned several times, and it strikes you as a problem, walk away. There are too many kids’ apps out there for any one to make or break your kid’s day.

No ad-supported apps: “Free,” ad-supported apps are called out by the FTC because so much information is shared with the advertiser or a third-party tracker. Paying for apps usually means you’re buying insurance against some of this funny business — not just against ads, but also in-app money-making schemes. (More on that next.) Higher-quality kids’ apps range from $1.99 to $6.99. That may seem “steep” in the app galaxy, but that pricing is cheaper than most children’s books, and app updates usually cost nothing.

No in-app purchases: I am very much opposed to any kids’ app that is offered for free, only to tease a bunch of in-app purchases, like a “free” virtual fish tank that comes with just two fish — but you can buy more for $1.99 a piece! That is a technique that is used to win over the kid first, so that a reluctant parent is guilt-tripped into spending money. Better for parent to choose to spend a fixed amount up front.

No social log-ins or sharing: My kids are way too young to “share” their drawings and other creations with the world, or care what total stranger kids out there are up to. That will change as they age, but I will always be aware of what apps make social sharing a key focus, and I’ll evaluate the risks on a per-app basis.

Read more: Wilson Rothman, NBC News


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