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Sunday, December 5, 2021

Protecting Your Kids From The Mobile App Trap

Dr. Tracey Parrish

By Dr. Tracey Parrish

I find it fascinating how fast the App Store concept has taken off and how there are applications (apps) for your entertainment, productivity, well-being, and apps to keep you connected (to people, your home and to other devices). These mobile applications make completing tasks easier and faster, while we are on the go, or at least, on our phone.

With the increase of kids having phones, mobile app usage has impacted them as well. One of my nieces is old enough to have a phone. She is always asking me if she can download one app or another (her phone is restricted with parental controls). It’s crazy what apps she has interest in and how often the ‘must have app’ changes. As a very engaged aunt who is a technology junkie, I want to protect my niece from the perceived dangers of the digital world, while letting her experience a small amount of freedom and responsibility with her phone.

I believe there are some apps that are not appropriate for kids or at the very least, some apps that should have the settings tweaked before kids install them. I’m defining kids as those under 13 (since that is the age for Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rules, otherwise known as COPPA).

For most adults, it’s probably not second nature to do a little research before you let a kid download an app. You may not even think there could be much more going on than playing a game or chatting with friends. Oh boy, will you be surprised! The truth is that we must be reminded that our phones are like computers and these apps can do so much more.

I’d like to offer you a few tips to consider pertaining to apps and kids. These tips are intended to make you aware, educate you and to encourage you to do a little research, before you say YES to the download.

  1. Consider the information that is collected to create an account. Some of the information needed to create the account may not be needed for the functionality of the app. The developer’s intent is to collect information to build a profile of you or to gather additional data that can be shared with or sold to another company. With your kid in mind, decide how much information are you comfortable sharing and what information is really needed to create the account.
  2. Limit the application’s access to your phone’s features. Sometimes during the installation process, a pop-up message will ask for permission to access additional features of your phone. This could be a simple request for access to your contacts, access to your calendar, or access to your GPS for location. For kids, I recommend granting access to only what is needed for the purpose of using the app. If the app has nothing to do with tracking or locating your kid, why would you want to grant it access to the GPS? You don’t want the developer (or person with access to the data) knowing everywhere your kid has been.
  3. Know that you may not be the owner of your content. Pictures, videos, messages that have been uploaded are not typically yours. This means that the developer of the app has the ability to reuse or store the media content. Thinking of kids, this means that everything is permanent and is never really deleted; the content may still reside on the application’s server.
  4. Be aware, some applications will not let you delete your account. This one annoys me the most. There are some applications that will not let you delete your account. You can remove the application from your phone, but the account remains open. Tying back to my previous tip, the content you have shared while using the application will still be available. For some apps that will let you close your account, the steps necessary to do so could be hard to find or may require you to wait a period of ‘no activity’ before your account is officially closed.
  5. Read the Privacy Statement. This statement details what will be done with the information that you upload or share through the app. It also will state who the developer can share your information with. The most important part of the Privacy Statement, is that is has details on how (or if) you will be notified if there is a breach with your data.

There are plenty of applications that your kids can safely download that will offer them hours of fun, education and entertainment. Protecting their privacy and digital footprint while being cautious is a small step towards peace of mind for you.

Dr. Tracey Parrish is a technology fanatic who has the desire and passion for educating others on utilizing technology to make their personal and professional lives more productive.


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