Apple to protect children’s privacy
Even though it could devastate their businesses, Apple has decided to change the rules it has for kids apps.
Under the new rules, kids apps on Apple’s App Store will be banned from using external analytics software — invisible lines of code that collect extremely detailed information about who is using an app and how. Apple is also severely curtailing their ability to sell ads, which underpins the business model that results in many apps being free. The changes were prompted in part by some children viewing inappropriate ads, Apple says.
Making all these changes is part of the move to better protect users’ privacy by shielding children from data trackers, a move that has been lauded by some privacy advocates. But some are worried that instead of protecting kids, the new rules will be possibly expose them to more adult apps.
A few app makers are worried that the new rules could limit the ability of their apps ads and they would needs to leave the models that they are currently using that makes their apps free. Apple says it was simply responding to parents’ concerns. Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, said parents were complaining to Apple about inappropriate advertising shown to their kids while using iPhone apps. “Parents are really upset when that happens because they trust us,” Schiller said.
Under the new rules, developers of mobile apps don’t have to stop collecting data themselves. (Apple’s own analytics software is also not banned, according to the new rules.) And once they collect the data, Apple can’t see what they do with it, such as send it to a server, where it can be analyzed by outside parties. In some sense, Apple could be making the problem worse by pushing data collection into the shadows, according to developers and people who work at analytics companies.
Apple’s App Store is already under the antitrust microscope. The company is facing a European investigation into allegations made by Swedish music app Spotify that Apple unfairly tipped the scales on the App Store in favor of Apple Music, a similar service. And the Supreme Court in May allowed a lawsuit to proceed that accuses Apple of using monopoly power to inflate app prices.
Kids apps are estimated to make up only a small portion of the millions of apps available in the store, though Apple declined to say what percentage they are. It’s unclear exactly how many of those are collecting personally identifiable data on kids, and Apple declined to quantify how many are behaving badly.
Privacy advocates have been complaining for years about the problems Apple says it is trying to fight. The 1998 U.S. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and the newer European General Data Protection Regulation limit what data kids apps are able to track.
According to Cristina Contero Almagro, Aphaia Partner, “although this is definitely a step in the right direction, it remains to be seen how it applies in practice. These new rules show a theoretical concern of Apple, which is one of the Internet giants, about privacy, but data protection is more than written rules. With their own analytics software still allowed, children data will keep being collected, thus exposed to misuse. And, what is worse, if there is no control over how and to who the app developers transfer this data to external systems, the individiuals cannot exercise their data protection rights properly, what would be an unacceptable limitation of the GDPR”.