A group of 22 children’s and consumer organizations is calling for a federal investigation into Google’s marketing of children’s apps in its Google Play store, just the latest in a series of rebukes by experts about how the company handles technology aimed at youngsters.
Google has promoted the “Family” section of its Play store as a place where parents can find age-appropriate apps for children. But in a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission filed on Wednesday, the advocacy groups said the company’s endorsement of the apps was misleading. The groups said that some apps in that section contained content unsuitable for children, showed ads for casino games for adults or pushed youngsters into watching video ads and making in-app purchases.
The groups also said some apps appeared to violate the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, a federal law that prohibits sites and apps for children from collecting phone numbers, precise location, photographs, persistent tracking identifiers and other personal information from children under 13 without verifiable consent from a parent. The complaint cited an investigation by The New York Times in September that found some children’s apps collected precise location information and tracking identifiers without verifiable parental permission.
Google has come under mounting scrutiny for its promotion of children’s apps in its Play store. In April, cybersecurity researchers reported that more than half of about 6,000 free Android children’s apps they tested shared personal data in ways that may violate the children’s privacy law. In September, the attorney general of New Mexico filed a lawsuit against Google and other companies over children’s apps. The complaint said that Google had violated a state law on unfair practices by marketing certain children’s apps as family-friendly even when the company knew the apps failed to comply with its own policies on children’s apps.
In early October, two Democratic senators called for a federal investigation to examine how app stores like Google Play vet the apps they categorize as child-friendly and ensure they comply with the privacy law. And on Wednesday morning those senators — Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Ed Markey of Massachusetts — along with Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, sent another letter to the chairman of the F.T.C. pressing for “a comprehensive investigation into the Google Play store and its compliance” with children’s privacy and advertising rules.
“There are massive, at-scale problems with Android apps for children,” said Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a children’s advocacy group in Boston that led the latest complaint along with the Center for Digital Democracy, a nonprofit in Washington. “Google is failing to do the proper vetting of apps in the family section,” he said.
Google said that it removed thousands of apps from its Designed for Families program this year when it found policy violations, and had begun to take action on the apps cited in the consumer groups’ complaint.
“Parents want their children to be safe online, and we work hard to protect them,” said Aaron Stein, a Google spokesman. “Apps in our Designed for Families program have to comply with strict policies on content, privacy and advertising, and we take action on any policy violations that we find.”
A few years ago, Google introduced Designed for Families, a program that enables developers of Android apps to “showcase trusted, high-quality and age-appropriate content for the whole family.” To be eligible for the program, Google says developers must meet criteria like ensuring that their apps comply with the federal privacy law and contain age-appropriate content and ads for children.
But the groups’ complaint and the New Mexico attorney general’s lawsuit argue that Google misled consumers by promoting the apps as trustworthy while failing to enforce its own requirements for the Designed for Families program.
Among other criticisms, the complaint says that Dentist Games for Kids, an app for children 8 and under in the Play store, showed ads for adult casino games with names like Blackjack 21: Blackjackist and Double Wins Slots — Free Vegas Casino. It also says some apps include risky or inappropriate content, citing Ear Doctor Clinic Kids Games, an app that “tells children to use scissors to cut the hair around and inside an infected ear,” the complaint said. (On Wednesday morning, the app was not available in the Play store.)
The Times had similar findings when testing several children’s apps in the Play store this week. One app, Smart Games for Kids for Free, a free animated game for children 8 and under that has been downloaded more than a million times, asked for access to a player’s smartphone photos, media, files and location without seeking parental permission.
The app also showed ads for casino games, “cheap international calling” and the Spotify streaming music service, which does not allow children under 13 to have accounts. It also nearly continuously displayed an ad for in-app purchases.
Devgame Kids, a developer in Estonia that is behind the children’s app, did not immediately return an email seeking comment
Mr. Stein, the Google spokesman, said: “We take these issues very seriously and continue to work hard to remove any content that is inappropriately aimed at children from our platform.”
More groups join in support of women in STEM program at Carleton
OTTAWA — Major companies and government partners are lending their support to Carleton University’s newly established Women in Engineering and Information Technology Program.
The list of supporters includes Mississauga-based construction company EllisDon.
The latest to announce their support for the program also include BlackBerry QNX, CIRA (Canadian Internet Registration Authority), Ericsson, Nokia, Solace, Trend Micro, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, CGI, Gastops, Leonardo DRS, Lockheed Martin Canada, Amdocs and Ross.
The program is officially set to launch this September.
It is being led by Carleton’s Faculty of Engineering and Design with the goal of establishing meaningful partnerships in support of women in STEM.
The program will host events for women students to build relationships with industry and government partners, create mentorship opportunities, as well as establish a special fund to support allies at Carleton in meeting equity, diversity and inclusion goals.
VR tech to revolutionize commercial driver training
Serious Labs seems to have found a way from tragedy to triumph? The Edmonton-based firm designs and manufactures virtual reality simulators to standardize training programs for operators of heavy equipment such as aerial lifts, cranes, forklifts, and commercial trucks. These simulators enable operators to acquire and practice operational skills for the job safety and efficiency in a risk-free virtual environment so they can work more safely and efficiently.
The 2018 Humboldt bus catastrophe sent shock waves across the industry. The tragedy highlighted the need for standardized commercial driver training and testing. It also contributed to the acceleration of the federal government implementing a Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) program for Class 1 & 2 drivers currently being adopted across Canada. MELT is a much more rigorous standard that promotes safety and in-depth practice for new drivers.
Enter Serious Labs. By proposing to harness the power of virtual reality (VR), Serious Labs has earned considerable funding to develop a VR commercial truck driving simulator.
The Government of Alberta has awarded $1 million, and Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA) is contributing an additional $2 million for the simulator development. Commercial deployment is estimated to begin in 2024, with the simulator to be made available across Canada and the United States, and with the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) helping to provide simulator tests to certify that driver trainees have attained the appropriate standard. West Tech Report recently took the opportunity to chat with Serious Labs CEO, Jim Colvin, about the environmental and labour benefits of VR Driver Training, as well as the unique way that Colvin went from angel investor to CEO of the company.
Next-Gen Tech Company Pops on New Cover Detection Test
While the world comes out of the initial stages of the pandemic, COVID-19 will be continue to be a threat for some time to come. Companies, such as Zen Graphene, are working on ways to detect the virus and its variants and are on the forefronts of technology.
Nanotechnology firm ZEN Graphene Solutions Ltd. (TSX-Venture:ZEN) (OTCPK:ZENYF), is working to develop technology to help detect the COVID-19 virus and its variants. The firm signed an exclusive agreement with McMaster University to be the global commercializing partner for a newly developed aptamer-based, SARS-CoV-2 rapid detection technology.
This patent-pending technology uses clinical samples from patients and was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The test is considered extremely accurate, scalable, saliva-based, affordable, and provides results in under 10 minutes.
Shares were trading up over 5% to $3.07 in early afternoon trade.