What Parents Need to Know About Privacy in Mobile Games: Five Tips for Your Parenting Toolkit

January 23, 2023

With the explosive growth of mobile games in the last few years, it’s no surprise that they are popular with kids. There are lots of upsides to games-to-go, from entertainment to stress management and even education! Like most app developers, though, many mobile game companies make money by selling data and serving ads to their users. Mobile game companies also use gameplay data to improve their games, customize player experience, measure progress, detect cheats, and comply with laws. To do so, they might collect information ranging from your child’s birthday and location to what in-game purchases they made. You can use privacy laws, app settings, and other tools to make sure companies use your kids’ data responsibly. Here are five tips to help you get started.

Tip #1: Look for Privacy Labels and Policies

The app stores have “labels” for privacy modeled on nutrition labels for grocery store products. Instead of information about calories and nutrients, there’s information about a game’s privacy policy and data collection practices. Both Apple’s “Privacy Information” and Google’s “Data Safety” labels have links to the game’s full privacy policy and explain what information is gathered in a game, where it goes, and how it gets used or shared with third parties. You can also review a company’s privacy policy to find out more details, and whom to contact if you have a problem. Many mobile game companies now have easy-to-understand short-form policies or dashboards. Learn more.

Tip #2: Use Parental Controls and Permissions

You can set privacy controls and permissions for the mobile games and apps your children download and play, just like the parental controls you use on video game consoles. Some companies allow you to enable privacy features such as limiting which players can see game activity or chat with your kid. You can also limit inappropriate ads. For example, both Apple and Google have settings that help you protect your children’s privacy by allowing you to restrict information and block targeted advertising. Take some time to explore privacy controls and permissions. And remember to review and update them periodically as game companies roll out new features and your kids mature. Learn more.

Tip #3: Look for the ESRB Privacy Certified Seal

You’re probably familiar with ESRB’s content ratings for video games and apps, but did you know that ESRB also has special icons certifying a company’s compliance with ESRB’s privacy requirements? ESRB Privacy Certified is a membership-based program that works mostly with companies in the toy and video game industries. We review our members’ products for compliance with the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and other laws. We have two seals: (1) the Kids Seal, which covers games directed to children, and (2) our seal for games that are not primarily directed to children. When you see one of our seals in a mobile app, you can be assured that we’ve reviewed the company’s privacy practices and policies thoroughly. Learn more.

Tip #4: Don’t Let Your Children Lie About Their Ages

When companies know that children under the age of 13 are playing their games, they are required to follow COPPA. COPPA gives parents control over what information companies can collect from kids under 13 years of age online, including in mobile games.  Companies with games, apps, and other services “directed to children” or who know that kids under 13 are playing their game must:

  1. Notify you of how they use your kid’s information,
  2. Get your permission (“verifiable parental consent”) before collecting, using, or disclosing your child’s personal information,
  3. Allow you to review and request deletion of your child’s information.

Under COPPA, a game company can’t condition participation in a game on a child disclosing more information than is necessary, and you have the right to delete data. Beyond COPPA, new state privacy laws give teens (ages13-16) expanded privacy rights. To take advantage of these protections, make sure your kid enters an accurate birthdate or age when signing up for a new game! Learn more here.

Tip #5: Communicate with Your Kids

Talk with your kids about what they can do to protect their privacy online. Sometimes, in a rush to play a game, your child might simply click “yes” on permissions, or even falsify their age. When they understand how their personal data and preferences may be used, or more importantly misused, most kids will become more interested in managing their online privacy. Make sure they know they can turn to you for help, and that you know where to find answers. Learn more.

Protecting your kids’ privacy may sound overwhelming, but the benefits of playing games far outweigh the risks. Our tips – together with ESRB’s Family Gaming Guide and our “What Parents Need to Know” blogs can help you protect your kids’ privacy online.

Written by

Stacy Feuer

As senior vice president of ESRB Privacy Certified (EPC), Stacy ensures that member companies in the video game and toy industries adopt and maintain lawful and responsible data collection and privacy policies and practices for their websites, mobile apps, and online services. She oversees compliance with ESRB’s privacy certifications, including its “Kids Certified” seal, which is an approved Safe Harbor program under the Federal Trade Commission’s Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) Rule.

Before joining ESRB, Stacy spent more than 21 years as an enforcer and regulator at the Federal Trade Commission, developing deep experience in privacy, advertising, and international issues. She was also a partner in an international litigation firm and clerked for a federal district court judge. Stacy is a graduate of Cornell University and the New York University School of Law. Stacy holds the CIPP/US certification from the International Association of Privacy Professionals.