Tablet Computers Increasingly Used As Digital Babysitters
February 17, 2012

Tablet Computers Increasingly Used As Digital Babysitters

Nearly eight-in-ten parents with tablet computers allow their children to play downloaded games on the devices, according to a Nielsen survey published on Thursday of tablet-owning adults with children under the age of 12.

The survey, conducted in the fourth quarter of last year, sheds light on the way in which gadgets such as the iPad are being used as a type of ℠electronic babysitter´ to keep children occupied.

Some 77 percent of the parents surveyed said their children play downloaded games on a tablet device, while 57 percent said their children used the tablets´ educational applications.

More than half the parents -- 55 percent -- said their children had used tablets for entertainment while traveling, and 41 percent said they routinely give their children the device to use in restaurants.

Forty-three percent of those surveyed said their children watch television shows or movies on tablet devices, while just 15 percent of children use tablets to communicate with friends or family.

The results of Nielsen´s Q4 2011 survey represent a nine percent increase in the number of children using tablet devices compared with the same survey conducted in Q4 2010.

The release of the Nielsen survey coincides with a staff report issued on Thursday by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission urging developers of mobile apps for children to improve disclosures to parents about personal information collected about their children.

The commission said it plans to review whether such software violates child privacy law.

"At the FTC, one of our highest priorities is protecting children's privacy, and parents deserve the tools to help them do that," said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz in a statement.

"Companies that operate in the mobile marketplace provide great benefits, but they must step up to the plate and provide easily accessible, basic information, so that parents can make informed decisions about the apps their kids use.”

“Right now, it is almost impossible to figure out which apps collect data and what they do with it. The kids´ app ecosystem needs to wake up, and we want to work collaboratively with industry to help ensure parents have the information they need.”

The report, which was based on a survey of mobile applications for children, includes new recommendations for makers and sellers of mobile applications through Apple Inc.´s Apple Store and Google Inc.´s Android Market.

"This rapidly growing market provides enormous opportunities and benefits for app users of all ages, but raises questions about users' privacy, especially when the users are children and teens," the FTC staff wrote.

As kids increasingly download mobile applications, their parents lack information about what type of data is being collected about their children and what the information is being used for, the commission said.

A mobile application can gather a wide variety of information stored on the downloading device, including the user´s location, contact lists and phone number.  This information can be shared with various third parties, the FTC said.

The commission is responsible for enforcing the Children´s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA), which requires that operators of online services provide notice and receive parental consent before collecting information from children under the age of 13.

During the next six months, FTC staff will conduct an additional audit to determine whether some mobile applications are in violation of COPPA, the FTC said.

Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and John McCain (R-AZ) have introduced “The Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights,” which seeks to protect consumers´ online privacy.

“It´s just plain common sense that, at the very minimum, parents should have the right to know what kind of information an app directed to their children collects, uses and shares before downloading it,” said Senator Kerry in a statement today.

Representative Edward Markey (D-MA), who along with Representative Joe Barton (R-TX) introduced “Do Not Track Kids Act” to protect the online privacy of underage children, also praised the FTC´s report.

The market for mobile apps has skyrocketed in recent years, the FTC noted.  Indeed, in 2008 there were only about 600 apps available to smartphone users.  Today, there are hundreds of thousands that have been downloaded nearly 30 billion times, the commission said.

The FTC´s full report, entitled “Mobile Apps for Kids: Current Privacy Disclosures are Dis app pointing,” can be viewed here.