On Wednesday, a group of consumer advocates filed a formal complaint against Google with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), asking it to investigate potential violations of the Children's Online Privacy Proection Act (COPPA) and violations of its own policies on children's apps in the Google Play store.
NBC News reports that the group, led by the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University Law School, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and the Center for Digital Democracy comprises nearly two-dozen different consumer advocates. Together, they claim Google misled parents both by promoting apps that violated COPPA as child-appropriate apps, as well as apps not suitable for children in general.
Some of the apps cited as problematic in the group's 102-page complaint were concerning because they accessed the location of the device being used to run them, while others allegedly provided user profile information to advertising companies to allow them to create targeted ads. Both of these actions are prohibited in apps targeted at children under the age of 13.
Other apps included in the complaint are not in violation of COPPA specifically, but do appear to violate Google's own stated policies on what qualifies as a children's game. For example, "Dentist Game for Kids," includes giving a patient a shot in the back of the throat, and "Doctor X & the Urban Heroes," involves cutting clothing off of an injured person. Finally, several other apps were included due to a perceived overabundance of in-app purchases.
"The business model for the Play Store's Family section benefits advertisers, developers and Google at the expense of children and parents," said Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. "Google puts its seal of approval on apps that break the law, manipulate kids into watching ads and making purchases."