The Google Play store is marketing games geared towards children that share data with third parties and which feature creepy content, BuzzFeed News is reporting. Twenty-two child-advocacy groups came together to write a 99-page letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Wednesday to bring attention to this issue. The letter was also supported by Democratic lawmakers Sen. Tom Udall and Rep. David Cicilline.
In April, a study conducted by researchers at UC Berkeley found that thousands of apps Google is making available could potentially be violating guidelines under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). This federal law forbids companies from collecting and tracking personal information from kids under the age of 13. Google does require that all apps geared towards kid comply with the COPPA guidelines — as well as apply for their “Designed for Families” program — but it seems as if some games have still managed to slip through the cracks.
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), one of the groups that wrote the letter, worked with a Berkeley researcher to identify 84 apps that were part of the Designed for Families program — and which were tracking the location of the user, and sharing it with third parties. While Google says that they monitor their apps closely, and have already removed “thousands” due to policy violations, Josh Golin — executive director of the CCFC — feels that they are not really dedicated to addressing the problem.
Google is marketing apps to kids that share personal data with third parties, show manipulative ads, and are rife with creepy images — from graphic plucking of eyelashes to rubbing oil on scantily clad pregnant women — according to a new review.https://t.co/LftGRfI4fE— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) December 19, 2018
“Google doesn’t really have any incentive to clean up its own app store,” said Golin. “The things that are concerning and problematic, they actually profit off of.” App makers are required to give Google 30 percent of the revenue for every app purchase and in-app purchase.
Then there’s the disturbing content of the apps themselves. One example of a creepy app is “Crazy Eye Clinic,” which is marketed for kids ages 6-12. In the game, you are directed to pry open someone’s eyes and then pick out their eyelashes. In “Pregnant Mama Emergency Doctor,” you rub oil on a scantily-clad pregnant woman’s belly.
“With some of these, it almost feels like the game’s true audience is an adult fetish audience,” Golin said. “You’re like, ‘ick, there’s something really weird going on here.'”
YouTube has struggled to keep similar content off of their platform. Many videos are uploaded that are clearly geared towards children, but depict graphic, suggestive, or even explicit content. YouTube is now working with experts to remove the bizarre videos from the site. The letter to the FTC will hopefully spur Google to do the same, and to find a viable way to remove inappropriate content.