Parents, kids need more awareness of location tracking in apps, ASU professor says

Published: Wednesday, March 6, 2024 - 7:52am
Audio icon Download mp3 (1.44 MB)

More than half of parents recently surveyed by Cox Mobile said location sharing on their children's devices is turned on, making where they are publicly accessible across several mobile apps.

Close to a third of that group said their kids have been contacted by a stranger online, and a portion of those strangers referenced that child’s location.

Arizona State University professor K Royal, who teaches a class on data privacy and technology, said many online platforms and services subtly track activity and sell that information to third parties.

“The average person doesn’t understand the sheer amount of data that applications pull from these devices,” said Royal. “So how can you possibly blame children for not knowing?”

How children end up with their location data accessible to strangers online isn’t always as simple as it might seem.

“It’s not that the children are clicking, ‘here, share my location.’ It’s that these apps on their devices are collecting the location and sharing it,” Royal said. “Just like if you want directions to drive from one place to another, your phone automatically knows where you are.”

Tapping "agree" to the terms of service or automatic updates, she said, is usually the culprit.

“As they automatically update, they push through all of these permissions that you never see. So you may have told them in the beginning they can’t access your contacts. But with these automatic updates, you may be giving them permission to contact you or capture your contacts without knowing you’re doing it because you set it to automatically update the apps.”

Many children are now digital natives, and keeping them out of certain online spaces has proven difficult, if not impossible.

“Most kids 10, 11, 12 years old — they know how to lie,” said Royal. “They know how to not give their real age.”

Until legislation can catch up, according to Royal, it’s more important than ever for parents to understand how data collection works in order to protect their kids’ privacy.

“The depressing news is there's not an easy fix to this,” she said. “But the good news is, the more there is awareness of it, the more people will start paying attention.”

More stories from KJZZ

Education Retail + Consumer
Listen to this story