Research has found that some of Australia’s most popular apps for children are tracking and sharing data on its users in order to build profiles on them for life. Furthermore, research has also found that students in lockdown were also targeted, necessitating bans on certain things.

Due to the worrying data collecting practices that are targeting unsuspecting children and parents through popular children's entertainment apps, it's important to take a deep dive into this issue. As such, we'll be taking a look into the kinds of apps that are risky, what to keep an eye out for, and what parents can do to protect their children.


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What you need to know and which apps are the most risky

Many popular entertainment apps for children contain risky code that allows companies to gather data on its users and build profiles that can follow them for life. Children & Media Australia conducted an audit of 186 Android entertainment apps in 2020 and 2021, and found that 59 per cent (101 of 186) contained "concerning" code that had some problematic data collecting or sharing behaviour.

Australian school students are also at risk of "unprecedented tracking and surveillance" from problematic data collecting practices stemming from the use of remote learning apps and websites during the COVID-19 pandemic. Global advocacy group Human Rights Watch analysed 164 educational apps and websites (known as educational technology or 'EdTech') used in 49 countries and found that 89 percent of of EdTech products put children's privacy at risk. These EdTech products requested access to data that includes the student's contacts, locations, and even keyboard strokes. The issue here is that many parents and schools, particularly those in Australia, had little choice but to keep using these problematic EdTech products due to the lack of a viable alternative.

The main worry about all this data collecting is that companies will then share the data to third parties for advertising and/or propaganda purposes. As for which apps to be wary of, many of the most popular kids' apps have some level of data collection and sharing, including:

For a comprehensive list of children's Android apps in Australia that are data and privacy risks, head over to the Children & Media Australia website here.

What you can do to protect your child/children

Children & Media Australia have put together a three-step approach that parents can use to help protect their children's digital privacy while educating them in safe online practices. The three steps are:

  • Teach yourself

    • Spend some time getting to know how the privacy settings on you - and your children's - devices work.

    • Look at the apps you and your children have downloaded and read the privacy policies.

  • Boundaries, guidelines and limits

    • Set up age appropriate and realistic expectations on how online devices are used in order to establish healthy digital habits. This goes for both parents and children.

    • Set up clear boundaries in order to keep an eye on children's online activity. This includes stepping in and helping if anything looks tricky or unsafe.

  • Do it together

    • Joining in and sharing digital activities can help educate and protect children against privacy risks.

    • Let children watch how you respond to requests for information, how you react to traps or trick questions with apps, and how to adjust privacy settings.

    • Talk to your children during every stage of each of the aforementioned tips and explain how and why you're making those decisions, and show them how to manage privacy.

Managing digital and online privacy is dependent on the device used and the programs, platforms, and apps used. Some of the basic things parents can do to protect children's privacy include:

  • Checking the privacy settings on the device your child/children use.

  • Deleting apps you or your children rarely open or enjoy.

  • Limit the number of apps your child/children are allowed to have on their device. The more apps means the more third parties can access information on your device.

  • For every app, check what info it requests from your device. If it requests permission to use something that it really doesn’t need to function, deny access.

  • Find out how to change the settings to opt out of ad personalisation on web browsers, such as Google Chrome and Safari.

  • Regularly clear saved data, ideally anywhere and everywhere whenever possible.

  • Decide whether apps that require signing in are worthwhile - the fewer apps with your personal details the better.

    • If you need to create an account, make sure the password is strong and that you change it regularly. A good strategy is to create false identities for login purposes in order to protect your and your child/children's real identities.

Related reading:


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Information sourced from: ABC #1, ABC #2, ABC #3, Canberra Times, Children & Media Australia #1, and Children & Media Australia #2

Image credit: Emily Wade at Unsplash

All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice.

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