How to Protect Children’s Online Privacy? Researchers Found

Tuesday, June 30, 2020 - 10:48

Researchers at University of Texas at Dallas have developed a tool that can protect children’s online privacy.

Help Net Security reports that Dr. Kanad Basu, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science and lead author of the study, along with colleagues elsewhere, developed a tool that can determine whether an Android game or other mobile app complies with the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

The researchers introduced and tested their “COPPA Tracking by Checking Hardware-Level Activity,” or COPPTCHA, tool in a study. The tool was 99% accurate. Researchers continue to improve the technology, which they plan to make available for download at no cost.

Basu said games and other apps that violate COPPA pose privacy risks that could make it possible for someone to determine a child’s identity and location. He said the risk is heightened as more people are accessing apps from home, rather than public places, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Apps can access personal identifiable information, including names, email addresses, phone numbers, location, audio and visual recordings, and unique identifiers for devices such as an international mobile equipment identity (IMEI), media access control (MAC) addresses, Android ID and Android advertising ID.

The researchers’ technique accesses a device’s special-purpose register, a type of temporary data-storage location within a microprocessor that monitors various aspects of the microprocessor’s function. Whenever an app transmits data, the activity leaves footprints that can be detected by the special-purpose register.

COPPA requires that websites and online services directed to children obtain parental consent before collecting personal information from anyone younger than 13; however, as Basu’s research found, many popular apps do not comply. He found that many popular games designed specifically for young children revealed users’ Android IDs, Android advertising IDs and device descriptions.

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