Five Questions to Ask Before Your Child Downloads a Mobile App

Summer is here and school is out. Kids and teens have a lot of free time which means they will be on their (or your) mobile devices even more than normal.  Smartphones, tablets and other devices provide kids with countless beneficial apps and tools they can use to stay connected, entertain themselves, and learn. At the same time, these can also present privacy risks.


You probably can't, and don't want to, monitor everything your child does on a mobile device.  However, there are a few basic questions you should consider to help safeguard both their experience and their (and your) data.


1.  Who decides which apps your child downloads? Establish guidelines for mobile app downloads and payment, and consider using parental control apps and restrictions settings on your device and in the app stores.


To find parental control apps, search for "parental control" in the app store and find an app that meets your needs.

Device restrictions/parental controls are typically in the "settings" menu of your device.


Also, be aware of any financial accounts you have associated with your device or an app store. You will likely want to restrict your child from charging your credit card or racking up bills with your carrier.


2.  Is the app legitimate? If so, what information does the app collect, and what does it do with that information? Do a little preliminary research.  This may be as simple as looking at how many people have downloaded the app, or what users are rating it.  You may also want to do an online search. If it looks suspicious, don't download it.


Nobody likes reading privacy policies, terms of use, and permissions, but it is important to know how the app works.  Familiarizing yourself with the app's data policies will help you determine whether you feel comfortable letting your kid download and use the app.

If you have additional questions, consider asking the company via phone, email, or even social media.


3.  Is the app complying with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)? COPPA requires apps (as well as online services and websites) to get parental consent before they collect or share certain information from children under the age of 13.  The Federal Trade Commission enforces COPPA, and encourages parents to report apps that are breaking the rules.


4.  How does the app make money? Some app developers make money by charging users when they download.  Other apps are free to download, but charge users for certain features within the app. For example, many kids' games charge to unlock levels.  Apps also make money by allowing others to advertise within the app. If you know how the app makes money, you will be able to better judge whether you feel comfortable downloading it for your child to use.


5. Are you familiar with the device's security settings, online safety basics, and cyberbullying? Keep yourself up to date on all of these important topics.