Most of our personal information is now stored electronically, and that is enabling cybercrime to prosper. Identity thefts are becoming commonplace in today’s digital world, and children are not exempt from being targeted.
While the number of cyber-thefts among children is limited, the advent of more personalized and make-believe games has led to an increase in the ratio of child identity theft.
Child Identity Theft on the Rise
According to the Identity Fraud Report 2012, 1 in every 40 households with children under age 18 in the U.S. had at least one child whose personal information was compromised by identity breachers. Things don’t seem to have changed for the better since then. In fact, cases of child identity thefts seem to be rising.
A federal lawsuit filed in California in August 2107 accused The Walt Disney Co. of secretly collecting personal information from some of its youngest customers and illegally sharing that data with advertisers without parents’ consent. The suit revealed that beside Disney other software companies including Upsight, Unity, and Kochava, violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, COPPA, by collecting users’ data (including users under the age of 13) to facilitate “commercial exploitation.”
Children apps like “Disney Princess Palace Pets” reportedly embed trackers within that exfiltrate information off from the device upon installation, such as a child’s age and email addresses. Other information like children’s full names, physical locations and instant messenger handles are also obtained and given to advertisers as part of their online profiles.
The number of popular gaming apps from companies like Disney listed for violating COPPA has grown over the years to 40 plus, and still counting. Some of the immensely popular apps accused of violating COPPA include:
- Where’s My Water? (100 to 500 million installs per the Google Play store)
- Temple Run: Oz (more than 1 billion times per the Google Play store)
- Beauty and the Beast (1 to 5 million installs per the Google Play store), and
- Moana Island Life (1 to 5 million installs per the Google Play store)
Now may be the right time to check on your little ones. Your child could be a victim of child identity theft for purposes of advertising and commercial exploitation via the apps they use.
Avoid Child Identity Theft Online
The proliferation of the internet means internet connection is as important for smartphones and tablets as the power battery. Without the internet, mobile devices are not so smart. Children are connected 24/7 as they find internet connectivity everywhere be it in schools, hotels, restaurants, libraries and waiting rooms. The more the connectivity, the more likely is the vulnerability of data stored in a child’s favorite devices.
Today, apps are not just apps. They are the primary gateway to the worldwide web. To monetize the apps, developers incorporate ads into their software. Sometimes, the ads or commercials shown are not age appropriate and lack necessary child safeguards. Some app developers also solely focus on the revenue they are receiving from advertisers and aggressively track and monetize individuals.
To protect children from ads that follow them everywhere, and guard against commodification of individuals that can lead to child identity theft, use encryption to make your digital footprints hard to trace. This can be easily achieved using a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN makes your online identity anonymous and allows users to connect securely over a less-secure network between your computer and the internet.
With a VPN, you and your family will be able to safely browse the internet and share data across encrypted channels. And you’ll also be helping curb increasing cases of identity thefts and other cybercrimes and misconducts prevalent today.