Good Digital Parenting
Blog | Dec. 22, 2014

Understanding the Risks and Rewards of Mobile Technology

CEO, AgeCheq

My goal is to help good digital parents like you gain a better understanding of the mobile technology that we and our children use every day. I believe strongly that parents who can really understand the risks and rewards of the technology we use can make better decisions for their children.

Parents who step back and think a bit about their young children’s use of mobile devices tend to see a wide range of positive and negative possibilities. With regard to the negative, I believe that our electronic and television news operations thrive on scaring people with exaggerated “click bait” headlines and unbalanced reporting. 

At the recent FOSI Annual Conference, I was very heartened to hear that FOSI agrees with this assessment and is dedicated to providing a balanced set of facts that parents can use to make good decisions for their children. 

When managing our children’s privacy, there are three closely related, but completely separate issues that parents need to consider when making choices for their children.

Your first concern is “privacy”, referring to the personally identifiable information captured either directly by the app’s programming or by any third party service (such as an ad network) that is built into the app. This personal information is known as “PII”. In the US, there is a law intended to protect your children under 13 from having their PII used without your prior permission. This law is called COPPA and it has only recently begun being enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, and as a result, publishers are just beginning to comply with this law. Until the app industry is in full compliance with this law, it’s up to you to take a look at each game and do your best to monitor the information it captures.

The second concern is “commerce”. I’m sure you have heard about (or maybe been bitten by) situations where young children were given app store passwords by their parents and ran up huge bills for extra lives, smurfberries, and other forms of virtual currency that mobile games use to make money. The FTC has addressed this issue by forcing Apple and Google to refund millions to parents who were affected, and forcing changes to the purchasing process to minimize the chances that it will happen.  To help solve this problem, Apple has introduced “Family Sharing”, which gives you purchasing control over your kids’ devices.

The third concern is “content”. Parents have a right to know and control what their children will see when they allow children to download a game or movie. There are many ratings and curation services that allow parents to look into what games or apps contain, but there is no single source for such things, and there is no federal oversight over content.

These three issues are very interrelated, and if you have a problem, it can be hard to even know what to do about it.  If you do encounter a problem with a web site or a mobile app, these questions will help you decide what to do.

Are you concerned about information that your child has posted (such as in a chat, photo sharing, or social interaction) or information that was electronically captured (such as a device identifier or GPS signal)? If yes, then you should address the problem from a privacy perspective. Did the game ask for your child’s age? Did they show you a full list of captured information and require your approval before the child could play? If not, the developer has not complied with COPPA and you should contact the developer directly, making them aware of your issue. If you choose to contact the FTC with a complaint, you can do it here.

Does your problem involve money that your child spent to play a mobile game? If yes, you should contact the developer directly. If you choose to contact the FTC with a complaint, you can do it here.

Are you unhappy with something that your child saw, heard or experienced while playing? In some cases, the developer may not even be at fault – many “free” games use advertising inside the game to make money, and the developer has no control over the content that is delivered by the advertising networks they use.  With content related problems, there is really no enforcement agency. The best thing you can do is make the developer aware of your concerns and stop your child from using the offending app.

Cover image courtesy of Flickr