With more than 700,000 apps in Apple’s app store, it can be hard to decide which apps are suitable for your child to use. Here are some aspects to consider before allowing children and teens to download new apps.
Some games are educational, but most apps aren’t designed to teach new skills. It’s important to make a decision about how educational you want your child’s experience to be before handing over the phone.
Most free apps make money through advertisements, but services such as AdMob and iAd don’t offer creators any control over the ads displayed. Because ad content isn’t chosen by the developers, unrelated (and even adult) content can show up in apps aimed at a younger audience. For younger children, the best option is to avoid ad-supported apps entirely by upgrading to a paid version or simply using a different app.
Speaking of upgrades, what about apps that constantly alert kids and ask them to buy paid content? SpongeBob Diner Dash was removed from the Apple App Store earlier this week after complaints from parents about the game’s promotional notifications. Thankfully, app descriptions are typically up-front about what paid upgrades are available.
Major newspapers around the country have reported on privacy holes in popular mobile apps. Earlier this month, the FTC called the lack of transparency from app creators “disappointing”. According to the FTC, mobile apps intended for children have been found to track phone numbers, contact list, call logs, and even track the location of the device.
For those of us with older children, mobile privacy remains an issue, and the solution isn’t always clear. Even games that don’t require the user’s physical location, such as Angry Birds, frequently track them for marketing reasons. The Wall Street Journal published a report on some of the most popular apps, and found that even simple dictionary apps can transmit location to third parties.
Apple’s built-in restrictions offer only the most basic options, and require that you remember a password to make changes. If you forget this password, the device must be wiped and everything set up from scratch. AppCertain offers a better solution. AppCertain created a free service that helps parents monitor which apps get installed on a family’s iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch. It takes seconds to create an account and install the security profile on the devices you want to monitor. After following these simple steps, AppCertain will send you an email within 24 hours every time a new app is downloaded. This email will have descriptions of the apps being installed, plus extra information like:
Whether the app tracks location
Does the app display advertisements?
How much the app costs
AppCertain is working on innovative ways for you to manage your family’s mobile devices. Simple instructions on signing up for free app monitoring service are available here.
Griffin Boyce of AppCertain is an expert on privacy and anonymity, and has been interviewed by The Washington Post and CNET on these topics. He is also an app developer.